Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 6 October 1888

Date: October 6, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07531

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:218–219. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

Saturday Noon
Oct 6 '881

Well I suppose you have just rec'd the little bound Vol. Nov Boughs2—& I fancy you saying "It looks plain & common enough—not handsome or presentable evidently at first—but let us see what it has to give us for good—if any"—Dave McKay3 has taken the lot & will be the publisher4—& I am satisfied so—What it all results time will show—

A dark rainy day & I am sitting here as usual, nothing bad—in fact nothing very new—a bowel movement this forenoon—no breast &c aches at present, but they were bad & continued yesterday & night before last, dwelling left side, heart area. To-day I am feeling pretty fairly—Mr & Mrs Johnston,5 my N Y friends, call'd yesterday to see me—I had a letter from Buxton Forman6 (wh' I will send you—Horace has it now)—sends authentic the anecdote we heard ab't of Geo: Elliot & L of G—I have rec'd a letter f'm Wm O Connor7—his eyes are troubling badly—but he wields spirit & determination same as ever—am drawing to a close my perusing history Louis Fourteenth8—poor old creetur (as the old woman said to the Devil)9—Every thing quiet here to-day.

Walt Whitman

Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. This letter is addressed: Dr. R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden (?) | Oct 6 | 8 PM | 88. [back]

2. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–82. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the original publisher, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, Complete Prose Works, and the final Leaves of Grass, the so-called deathbed edition. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. For the negotiations with McKay, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, October 4, 1888, Friday, October 5, 1888, and Saturday, October 20, 1888. The publisher agreed finally to take "one thousand copies of N. B. at thirty-one and a quarter cents" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, October 20, 1888). [back]

5. John H. (J.H.) Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler who became a close friend of Whitman's. Whitman visited Johnston's home frequently, and Johnston assisted with raising funds for the aging poet. Alma Calder Johnston was an author and John's second wife. Her family owned a home and property in Equinunk, Pennsylvania. For more on the Johnstons, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder" (Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. In a September 26, 1888, letter, H. Buxton Forman informed Walt Whitman of George Eliot's change of mind about Leaves of Grass. After a discussion with Horace Traubel, Whitman concluded: "George Eliot was a great, gentle soul, lacking sunlight" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, October 5, 1888). [back]

7. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Whitman is referring to Julia Pardoe's Louis the Fourteenth and the Court of France in the Seventeenth Century (1855). See Whitman's letter of September 25–26, 1888 to Richard Maurice Bucke. [back]

9. On page 63 of Walt Whitman (1883), Richard Maurice Bucke notes this as one of the poet's favorite anecdotes. [back]


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