Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 6–7 November 1888

Date: November 6–7, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07540

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), 4:231–232. 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

Tuesday Evn'g
Nov: 6 '881

Seems curiously quiet for election day,2 & has been all the time here—At my proposal Ed Wilkins3 went over to Phila: from 12 to 3 & took a note I sent to Tom Donaldson4—(Ed says D treated him like a prince)—I am feeling better still—weather fine to day, sunny, rather warmish—I am trying to write a very short concluding note to the big book5 but it holds fire, don't suit me—& this is all that keeps matters back—but n'importe—we are in no way hurry—

Yours came to-day6—it is indeed queer you don't hear from Wm Gurd7 at all ('twas me I should be uneasy)8—Tom Harned9 was here last evn'g—Horace10 too—a good deal ab't the election & "politics"—(the whole contest ab't high tariff & free trade is too previous & sophomorical at present—too abstract—But it will be a great point one of these days)—Whatever is done or happens at present the U S will prosper, grow, advance, in the nature of things, these ages—

Wednesday A M Nov. 7—Don't seem to be defined yet who is elected President—you will probably know before this reaches you—Fine weather still—I continue pretty well—No Osler11 for ten days—Ed Wilkins pleases me12—Did you get the Phil: Times Oct 27 with a quarter column notice of Nov. B?13—If not I will send it you—As I write I am sitting here as usual in the big chair by the stove—window a little open—every thing quiet & comfortable—

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, N.J. | Nov 7 | 1 30 PM | 88. [back]

2. The presidential election of 1888 pitted incumbent Democratic president Grover Cleveland against Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison; Harrison lost the popular vote but won the electoral college and became the nation’s twenty-third president. Tariffs were a major issue in the campaign, with Harrison on the side of industry (who wanted high tariffs) and Cleveland on the side of consumers (who benefited from low tariffs). [back]

3. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

4. Thomas Donaldson (1843–1898) was a lawyer from Philadelphia and a friend of Whitman. He introduced Whitman to Bram Stoker and later accompanied Stoker when he visited the poet; he also organized a fund-raising drive to buy Whitman a horse and carriage. He authored a biography of Whitman titled Walt Whitman, the Man (1896). For more information about Donaldson, see Steven Schroeder, "Donaldson, Thomas (1843–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, he made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

6. Whitman may be referring to Bucke's letter of November 4, 1888[back]

7. William John Gurd (1845–1903) was Richard Maurice Bucke's brother-in-law, with whom he was designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. Bucke believed the meter would be worth "millions of dollars," while Whitman remained skeptical, sometimes to Bucke's annoyance. In a March 18, 1888, letter to William D. O'Connor, Whitman wrote, "The practical outset of the meter enterprise collapsed at the last moment for the want of capital investors." For additional information, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 17, 1889, Monday, March 18, 1889, Friday, March 22, 1889, and Wednesday, April 3, 1889.  [back]

8. Gurd, the coinventor of the meter, had gone to New York in order to obtain financial backing. On November 1, 1888, Bucke complained that Gurd had "only written one letter in 2½ weeks." On November 6 Bucke had heard from Gurd—"All is going fine with him and the meter." [back]

9. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel, was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. Sir William Osler (1849–1919) was a Canadian physician and one of the four founding staff members of Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he served as the first Chief of Medicine. Richard Maurice Bucke introduced Osler to Whitman in 1885 in order to care for the aging poet. Osler wrote a manuscript about his personal and professional relationship with Whitman in 1919; see Walt Whitman and Sir William Osler: A Poet and his Physician [Toronto: ECW Press, 1995]). For more on Osler, see Philip W. Leon, "Osler, Dr. William (1849–1919)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on the relationship of Osler and Whitman, see Michael Bliss, William Osler: A Life in Medicine (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999). [back]

12. On November 9, 1888, Bucke commented: "I am real glad you seem pleased with Ed. W. I knew he would suit you or I would not have sent him so far—he was with me here a long time and I know him well—he is just what he looks, a good, simple minded, quiet, honest country boy—just the kind you like." On November 8, Whitman commented to Traubel: "I am coming to see that he is just the man I needed: he is my kind: he is young, strong" (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, November 8, 1888). [back]

13. Richard Maurice Bucke termed the review, on November 9, "a middling notice—it is surprising to me how little the average reviewer sees." [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.