Life & Letters


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Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, [20 January [188]9]

Date: [January 20, [188]9]

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07566

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 Richard Maurice Bucke, The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), 103. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Caterina Bernardini, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

[London, Ont.,]
[20 Jan [188]9]1

Yours of 17th2 came to hand yesterday and I left it over till today that I might answer it at leisure. That is grand news about Kennedy's3 book, that Wilson4 will really publish it and at once,5 so it is that the German translation is actually being printed at last.6 I shall be very glad to get the Springfield Repn cong the "Whittier, Whitman & Emma Lazarus" criticism7—please do not forget to send it when you can spare it. No, I have received no German papers of any kind from any body for a long time, where are they? If still comeatable send them.8 [—] We have, thank goodness, a change in the weather, it has been blowing from the East for about twenty-four hours and now (as a natural consequence) it has begun to snow—and it is coming down at a great rate before a driving cold East wind out of a dark gray sky which looks as if it was made of solid snow banks. If we have no diasastros change (such as a shift of the wind) we shall have good sleighing tomorrow morning. All well and all quiet here, annual Ball getting pretty near now, a week from thursday—i.e. 1st—soon after that I hope to see you, but we have had no word of our patents9 yet and there may still be some hitch for all I can tell—but I hope not

Addio and Love to you
R M Bucke

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. Horace Traubel's note, "See Notes, | Jan. 22d '89," appears in the upper left-hand corner of the first recto. The reference is to Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, January 22, 1889. This letter is not listed by Edwin Haviland Miller in Walt Whitman: The Correspondence, part of The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman[back]

2. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of January 17, 1889[back]

3. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Frederick W. Wilson was a member of the Glasgow firm of Wilson & McCormick that published the 1883 British edition of Specimen Days and Collect[back]

5. Kennedy had reported in a letter to Whitman of January 2, 1888 that Frederick W. Wilson was willing to publish his study of Whitman. Kennedy's manuscript eventually became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (1926). Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) of Paisley, Scotland, a publisher who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman, ultimately published Reminiscences of Walt Whitman in 1896 after a long and contentious battle with Kennedy over editing the book. [back]

6. Grashalme, the first book-length German translation of Whitman's poetry, was published in 1889, translated by Thomas William Hazen Rolleston and Karl Knortz. [back]

7. Bucke is referring to an unsigned review in the Springfield Daily Republican of January 15, 1889. Whitman thought the author was Franklin B. Sanborn; see his letter to Bucke of January 17, 1889[back]

8. The German newspapers had been sent to Whitman by Karl Knortz. They contain a brief note on Whitman in Germania (Steubenville, Ohio), which Traubel translated for Whitman (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, January 16, 1889); and Knortz's report of a Whitman lecture in Bhan Frei from September 18, 1886 (See the letter from Whitman to Knortz of June 19, 1883 and Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, January 15, 1889). [back]

9. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]


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