Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 4 August 1888

Date: August 4, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07651

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), 4:196–197. 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, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

Saturday P M
Aug 4 '881

Hottest & most prostrating day yet—good bowel action—I have washed all off in cool water & sit here half naked in solitude writing this—A welcome lively letter from O'Connor2—Dr Channing's daughter Grace3 (& other folks) has (& have) compiled a book, "Walt Wh—Calendar," & are now north seeking a publisher—Dr C4 has put this job (seeking a grand N Y publisher) in the hands of Stedman5—& that's the way the situation stands at the present moment—dont you sorrow for poor Stedman?—think of such temperature as to-days!

—An artist S Hollyer6 has etched me from a photo Mary Costelloe7 call'd the Lear—I guess it is pretty good—I shall not forget one for you soon as I can get one—

—I send proofs 105 to 117 inclusive8—there will be ab't 20 more—I am more comfortable than you may suppose


Have had & enjoyed my dinner, roast lamb, potatoes & onions, a slice of good bread, tea & roast apples—(only eat two meals a day)—

—This I suppose will be high revel (for two or three weeks now) for excursions & vacations & country trips &c—20 cars went out in one train from here to-day—yours yesterday rec'd9

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 postcard is addressed: Dr R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Aug 4 | (?) PM | 88. [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. Grace Ellery Channing (1862–1937) was a writer and editor. She was the daughter of William F. Channing and the niece of William D. O'Connor. In 1894 she married artist Charles Walter Stetson, soon after his divorce from Channing's lifelong friend, writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. After her initial refusal to ever read Whitman's work, Channing became enthralled by the poet's words and, in 1887, had the idea of creating an illustrated calendar with excerpts from Leaves of Grass. The illustrations would be made by Walter Stetson. The project was never realized. For more on the calendar project, see see Joann Krieg, "Grace Ellery Channing and the Whitman Calendar," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 12, no. 4 (1995), 252–256. In 1899, Channing published her own volume of Whitman-inspired poetry titled Sea-Drift in 1899. [back]

4. William F. Channing (1820–1901), son of William Ellery Channing, and also Ellen O'Connor's brother-in-law, was by training a doctor, but devoted most of his life to scientific experiments. With Moses G. Farmer, he perfected the first fire-alarm system. He was the author of Notes on the Medical Applications of Electricity (Boston: Daniel Davis, Jr., and Joseph M. Wightman, 1849). Ellen O'Connor visited him frequently in Providence, Rhode Island, and Whitman stayed at his home in October, 1868. [back]

5. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Hollyer wrote to Whitman about April 6 to request permission to make the etching. In Whitman's Commonplace Book, Whitman wrote of the etching on August 3: "I rather like it" (The Commonplace-Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C). But for more adverse opinions, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 12, 1888, and Wednesday, August 15, 1888. [back]

7. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

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

9. Bucke had written to Whitman on July 30, 1888, and on August 4, 1888[back]


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