Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 14–15 July 1888

Date: July 14–15, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07644

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), 4:186–187. 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

'88—July 14—Saturday afternoon early1

Perfect temperature—sunny—cool enough—some breeze—I am pretty comfortable while I sit quietly & dawdle over papers &c. as the last three hours—but my head more or less thick & floundering (dull ache) when I read with purpose—or write—

Two letters rec'd from you to day—Mrs Harned2 sent me a first rate broiled chicken for my dinner & supper yesterday—I enjoyed all—Did I tell you I rec'd a long letter from O'Connor3 yesterday bright & cheering as ever—nothing very special—(I think O'C is better)—I wrote last evening to Burroughs4—Traubel5 writes him the news—Maurice how late down to are the proof pages6 you have? Write me without fail in your next & I will send you at once—And how long to you get a letter hence—say [it] is mail'd here (Phila) say at 8¼ Monday night—when do you get it?—bowel dejectures quite mark'd, twice the last four or five days—appetite fair—4 p m—Tom Harned7 brings me a nice homely cake-loaf from Mrs H—young Dr. Mitchell8 is here, gives me a dose for the cold-in-the-head thickness feeling I have so much of (has something with the suppressing of the free perspiration & heat of days previously)—I have not the slightest anticipation from it—we are closing the most perfect day of this summer—I am taking some calomel this env'g—I am feeling fairly—

Sunday, early afternoon—July 15—much the same—weather pleasant—not hot—quiet—head little thick—am sitting here in the big chair—have eaten breakfast 10½ relishing fairly—no operation yet of last evening's calomel (every thing acts very slowly & lagging on me, even a day or even two)—Have letters from friends of long ago—have just answered to an old N Y Broadway driver—also just a word to my friend Sylvester Baxter9 of Boston10—Harned has just come in with a mug of peach ice cream from Mrs. H—& Tom has just gone off with "Hamlet's Note Book" to add to Donnelly's11 Cryp[togram]12 with which T H is just wrestling—

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 to: Dr R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden (?) | Jul 15 (?) | 6 P(?) | 88. [back]

2. Augusta Anna Traubel Harned (1856–1914) was Horace Traubel's sister. She married Thomas Biggs Harned, a lawyer in Philadelphia and, later, one of Whitman's literary executors. [back]

3. 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]

4. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. 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]

6. Whitman was at this time reading proofs for November Boughs and asking friends to read them as well. [back]

7. 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]

8. During Dr. William Osler's absence, beginning on July 8, Whitman was attended by Dr. J. K. Mitchell, son of S. Weir Mitchell (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, July 8, 1888). For Whitman's opinion of the young man, see Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, July 12, 1888[back]

9. Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Baxter had written on July 13, 1888 (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, August 24, 1888). [back]

11. Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831–1901) was a politician and writer, well known for his notions of Atlantis as an antediluvian civilization and for his belief that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon, an idea he argued in his book The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, published in 1888. [back]

12. O'Connor's Hamlet's Note-book (1886) argues for Bacon's authorship of Shakespeare's plays. Whitman also refers to Ignatius L. Donnelly's The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in the So-Called Shakespeare Plays (1888). [back]


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