Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 23–24 January 1889

Date: January 23–24, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07569

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Breanna Himschoot, Ashlyn Stewart, and Stephanie Blalock

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Jan 23—after 9 P M—

Horace2 has bro't the costlier binding specimen copy—a handsome substantial volume—not that I am overwhelmed or even entirely satisfied by it, but as I had not put my calculations high & was even expecting to be disappointed I shall accept it, & have some bound after it—It is dark green half calf, gilt top, rough bottom & front, plain & sufficiently rich, the stitching & all else strong & durable (as I am told)—price of binding each copy $1.243—back lettering simply "Walt Whitman's Complete Works," then half way down "Poems and Prose" and then at bottom "Edition 1889"4

I have felt easy & comfortable the last four hours—sent you a letter & papers by the 8 p m mail5—also a few words to O'C6—Rec'd a letter from Rice7 asking me to write for the N A Review8

Jan: 24—With me ab't "the same subject continued"—a partial bowel dejection this forenoon—cloudy, still, raw, coolish weather—I keep a good fire—quiet here—I have seen the Feb: Harper's, with Howells's notice of Nov: Boughs9—it is friendlyish & sort o' caressing but perhaps guarded10—I suppose you get the mag:—if not I will send you mine—Yours of 22 rec'd11—(read the last Critic's notice again—I am not sure but it is the best of all)—I finish sitting alone in the room by the fire—the afternoon half passed, & all well—

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. | Jan 24 | 8 PM | 89; London | AM | JA 25 | 89 | Canada. [back]

2. 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 late 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]

3. In his letter to Whitman of January 26, 1889, Bucke was concerned that "$1.24 is a big slice off $6. The price of the book should have been more than $6. I would not have put it a cent below $10" (Syracuse; Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, January 30, 1889). [back]

4. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." The volume was published by the poet himself in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. 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]

5. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of January 23, 1889. [back]

6. 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]

7. Charles Allen Thorndike Rice (1851–1889) was a journalist and edited and published the North American Review in New York from 1876 until his death. His Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of His Time (1888) was published by The North American Review Publishing Company. [back]

8. In his letter to Whitman of January 18, 1889, Charles Allen Thorndike Rice requested "an article of two thousand words, or less," on "The American Ideal in Fiction" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 24, 1889). Rice died on May 16, 1889; see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, May 16, 1889 and Friday, May 17, 1889[back]

9. 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]

10. See William Dean Howells's "Editor's Study," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 78 (February 1889): 488–9. [back]

11. See Bucke's letter to Whitman of January 22, 1889[back]


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