Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 30 June —1 July 1888

Date: June 30–July 1, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07643

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), 4:180. 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

Saturday afternoon
June 30 '881

The sun is out again after three days—good temperature, neither hot nor cold to-day—I neither improve nor really go back—Keep my room rigidly yet—have had today a bowel movement—& sit up most of the time—eat my meals sufficiently—take no brain grip (real writing, reading, examining proofs) definitely yet, (nor any thing like it plainly as of old)—

I will very soon send proof pages onward following from "Sands at Seventy"2 for proof pieces of ab't 50 pages further—(you have now ab't 40 proof pages)—Of course I have for all June stopp'd writing the Herald bits3—& the H. paper ceases by mail wh' is just as satisfactory—I have written, formally completed &c. the will document (witnessed by ocular witnesses as this state statute requires)4 and the designation of my copyrights to be supervised by you, Harned5 and Horace Traubel6—& now when "Nov. Boughs"7 are completed—all will be attended to, the same—

Sunday afternoon early July 1

Feeling miserably to-day so far—am sitting up—not rain but cloudy and cool and raw—bad feeling in belly and head regions, all day so far—had the preluded coca-wine, & then my breakfast, moderate—pretty good spirits—Mrs Davis8 has been up ten minutes, good company, good gossip—a pretty rose-bouquet from Agnes Traubel9—Tom Harned ret'd last evn'g from NY three days (likes NY much)—

I am wretchedly weak in knees & anything like body strength—tho pretty good arm muscular hold as I hold on—

Love to you & to Mrs. B10 & the childer—
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. | Jul 1 | 5 PM | 88. [back]

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

3. Whitman contributed a series of poems and prose pieces to the New York Herald at the invitation of the editor, James Gordon Bennett, Jr. From December 1887 through August 1888, 33 of Whitman's poems were published in the paper. [back]

4. The witnesses were Mary O. Davis (see note 8) and Dr. Nathan M. Baker, who was serving at the time as Whitman's nurse. [back]

5. 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]

6. 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]

7. 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]

8. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Agnes Traubel Lychenheim (1881–1923) was Horace Traubel's sister. She married Dr. Morris Lychenheim, an osteopathic physician from Chicago. [back]

10. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]


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