Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 4–5 February 1889

Date: February 4–5, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07576

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 Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:280–281. 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, Stefan Schöberlein, and Stephanie Blalock

Feb: 4 '89

An incipient "cold in the head" (from an open sash behind me two hours yesterday toward evn'g forgotten)—may pass over lightly—may grow worse—(generally of late seems to settle on, merge in bladder trouble)—Otherwise matters much the same—partial bowel action (thankful for that)—half sunny weather this forenoon, rather cold—The "Magazine of Poetry" from you came—all looks better than I w'd have anticipated—pictures, print, paper very fair—I see I appear quite largely—good biographic sketch f'm y'r pen I accept & like well2—quite many names I had not heard before—rather an apotheosis of good mediocrity isn't it? & why not?

Feb: 5 noon

Nothing special—I am sitting by the stove alone—partial bowel dejection an hour ago—no letters rec'd this morn'g—sell two copies Nov: B3 to-day—I send papers & p[ost] cards to O'C[onnor]4 every other day—nothing very late from him—cloudy dark raw here like snow in prospect—

McKay5 is going off "on the road" (book selling &c) in ab't a week—takes the new bound big book6" with him—wants of me, a formal pledge that there will be no more complete works like this issued by me—but I refuse—(altho' I feel confident there will not, yet I prefer to keep it open)—I sell the C W to McK h'f calf bound for $4—so you see I don't indeed make much—will soon send you a printed slip of the Sarrazin7 fragment as the proof from K[ennedy]8 has come in the 2 p m mail.9 It seems but a fragment, but a typical one—Y'rs came to-day.10 The sun is out shining at setting—

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. | Feb. 5 | 8 PM | 89. [back]

2. The first issue of this new journal had a lengthy notice (14–23), with a foreword by Bucke, Frank Fowler's etching, and a photograph. [back]

3. Whitman is referring to his book November Boughs, which was published in October 1888. 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]

4. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). 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]

5. David McKay (1860–1918) was a Philadelphia-based publisher, whose company, founded in 1882, printed a number of books by and about Walt Whitman in the 1880s and 1890s, such as the 1891/1892 editon of Leaves of Grass, Whitman's November Boughs, and Richard Maurice Bucke's 1883 biography of the poet. [back]

6. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." 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. Philadelphia publisher David McKay published the book in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

7. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [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]

9. Whitman is referring to Gabriel Sarrazin's "Poetes modernes de l'Amerique, Walt Whitman," which appeared in La Nouvelle Revue, 52 (May 1, 1888), 164–184. Whitman had asked both William Sloane Kennedy and Richard Maurice Bucke to make an abstract in English of it (see Whitman's letter to Kennedy of January 22, 1889, and to Bucke of January 27, 1889). Sarrazin's piece is reprinted in an English translation by Harrison S. Morris in In Re (1893, pp. 159–194). [back]

10. Whitman is likely referring to Bucke's letter of February 3, 1889. [back]


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