Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 13 November 1888

Date: November 13, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07546

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), 234. 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

P M Nov: 13 '881

Sat in the bright warm sun an hour midday in the back room to-day—All continues fairly with me. Yours of 11th with parallel to Millet &c. rec'd. I shall look out for the Nineteenth2—Sent off the pesky little notes (more bother than they are worth)—the big book3 will now be stitched & bound—I came across a critique of John Burroughs4 in the old Galaxy magazine5—wh' I send you, tho' you probably had it before.

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 13 | 8 PM | 88. [back]

2. Bucke wrote enthusiastically on November 11, 1888 about an article by Julia Ady on "Jean-François Millet" in the September issue of The Nineteenth Century: "The parallelism in the lives of the two men (yourself & Millet) is wonderful." He proceeded to cite eleven parallels. Whitman, however, found Bucke's parallels "not convincing—no: only interesting" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, November 13, 1888 and Wednesday, November 14, 1888). [back]

3. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman 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, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]

4. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. For Whitman's discussion of the Galaxy article, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, November 13, 1888[back]


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