Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 24 June 1888

Date: June 24, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07642

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), 4:177–178. 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, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

Sunday midday
June 24 '881

Very hot & sultry & oppressive—Getting along pretty well, considering—your letters rec'd—a devout Catholic faith cure priest (or group) has or have sent me some ardent advice over here from France by mail2—came yesterday—Bowels moved Friday and Saturday & even to some effect even this (Sunday) forenoon—

Tom Harned3 came back last evening, after a week at Chicago4—it looks at present as tho' after the chaos & row & unsettledness, have all settled—for definite shibboleth and ticket—that Blaine & American Protection5 will be hung out on the outer walls & make the fight to do its best—not a bad game—Well, we'll see—

I have sent the 20 pages proofs complete to Wm O Connor6—the "Sands at Seventy"7—wh' said 20 pp he will send to you in ab't three days—you will then have the first 38 pages proof—(I am inferring that O'C is better)—The new little "November Boughs"8 is slowly but steadily moving—Horace Traubel9 is invaluable to me in it—My head in preparing my copies or reading proof is poorly, dull, raw, no10 weak grip, no consecutive, no racionative power—Well it is getting on in afternoon & I have sat up three hours—Havn't got out of this room yet—

Best remembrance & thanks & love to Pardee11 earnestly he will have a good turn12—(who was the old veteran had a saying God & time & I against all the rest world against)—

W 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 (?) | Jun 24 | 5 PM | 88. [back]

2. An unsigned postcard urged the recipient to pray to "Sts. Peter and Paul to cure you." See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, June 23, 1888[back]

3. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

4. For background on Harned's trip to the Republican National Convention in Chicago and the political issues at play, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, June 23, 1888[back]

5. James G. Blaine (1830–1893) was the Republican nominee for U.S. President in 1884, losing to Grover Cleveland; he was the presumptive nominee again in 1888 but refused to run, instead supporting eventual nominee Benjamin Harrison. [back]

6. 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]

7. "Sands at Seventy" is a group of poems Whitman first published in November Boughs, then added as an "annex" to Leaves of Grass[back]

8. Whitman was working on his book November Boughs at this time, and it 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]

9. 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 mid-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]

10. In the holograph, "no" is written above the word "weak." Whitman probably forgot to cross out the word "weak." [back]

11. Timothy Blair Pardee (1830–1889) was a Canadian lawyer and politician, member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontaria, Canada, and Minister of the Crown. Pardee appointed Richard Maurice Bucke, with whom he was a close friend, as the Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in Hamilton at its founding in 1876, and then the next year as Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in London. For more on Pardee, see H. V. Nelles, "Pardee, Timothy Blair," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. 11 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982). [back]

12. On June 15, 1888 Bucke mentioned Pardee's illness. In the same letter he discussed a circular to raise funds for Whitman: "I have found time to write the circular and give it to the printer. I will send you a proof early in the week—but mind you are not supposed to see it however you may as well and perhaps you would suggest a verbal change or two—if you feel like it do so." Whitman was incensed—"hot" is Traubel's word: "I don't approve of it—I don't want money—I have enough for all I need!" (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, June 18, 1888). Whitman's friends, however, raised money without consulting him (see the second footnote in Whitman's June 14, 1888, letter to William Douglas O'Connor). [back]


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