Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 16 April 1889

Date: April 16, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07601

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), 4:321–322. 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, Caterina Bernardini, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

April 16 '891

Cloudy raw weather—(may be part of my glum condition)—No word from O'C[onnor]2 now for a week and over—write a card to him to-night, & to Kennedy3—Good words &c from big printed quarters (N Y World and Herald)4—if I get them will send you—


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. | 16 Apr | 8 PM. [back]

2. 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]

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. Richard Hinton's three-column article "Walt Whitman at Home" appeared in the New York World on April 14, 1889. Whitman observed to Traubel: "It seems like three crowded columns of gush. . . . It may seem ungracious . . . to say so (for Dick is my friend and means me well) but his piece impresses me most by its emptiness—impresses me as a big tumor or boil, much swelled, inflamed, bulging, but nothing after all" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, April 17, 1889, Thursday, April 18, 1889). C. Sadakichi Hartmann's article "Walt Whitman. Notes of a Conversation with the Good Gray Poet by a German Poet and Traveller" appeared in the New York Herald on April 14. For Whitman's reactions, see his April 17 letter to Bucke and his May 4 letter to William Sloane Kennedy (see also Traubel, Tuesday, April 16, 1889, and Wednesday, April 17, 1889). Bucke prepared a correction for the Herald which was not printed (Traubel, Monday, May 6, 1889). [back]


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