Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 9 October 1888

Date: October 9, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07664

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), 4:221. 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

Tuesday noon
Oct: 9 '881

Middling comfortable & easy—take the bitter water—bowel movement this forenoon—weather sunny & cool—I keep a pretty good fire, oak wood—sleep fairly nights (from 12 to 5 must be unbroken in the main, when favorable)—for breakfast to-day 3 or 4 good stew'd oysters, some Graham bread toasted, & a cup of chocolate—ate pretty well (this & yesterday are favorable days)—In my eating neither at all ascetic nor sumptuous—pass two hours to-day putting my autograph to the poetic motto title to L of G. for the big book—Horace2 bro't the sheets (600 of them) f'm the bindery—David McKay3 has been over to-day—wants a different binding for N. B.4 wh' I agree to at his seeing to & expense—thinks the binding I have—like your copy—coarse & cheap—very likely—he paid me $106 royalty—I am satisfied with D McK—Have been looking over Cardinal Manning's & Col. Ingersoll's5 pieces in N. A. Review6—also Mrs. Carlyle's letters7 (for dessert)— quite a good many visits—a string indeed all day—

Our election trial is drawing near a verdict—as I see it, there are some things on each side—no great enthusing tho' they (the Rep[ublican]s) try to make it so—from the view of the solidarity of the common people of all the globe. I lean rather to the Cleveland side, (but I am sometimes squeamish even at that)—but it will be all right any how—Y'r welcome letter came yesterday—I enclose slip from to-day's Phil. Press ab't Dr Osler8

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. | Oct 9 | 8 PM | 88. [back]

2. 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]

3. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–2. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the publisher Whitman had originally contracted with for publication of the volume, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, and Complete Prose Works. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. 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]

5. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

6. Robert Ingersoll's "Rome, or Reason? A Reply to Cardinal Manning" appeared in the October issue of the journal (394–414). For Whitman's reaction see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, October 8th, 1888[back]

7. Whitman is probably referring to Jane Carlyle Welsh (1801–1866), Thomas Carlyle's wife, and to reading the volume that collects her correspondence. The book is entitled Letters and Memorials of Jane Carlyle Welsh. It was edited by James Anthony Froude (and prepared for publication by Thomas Carlyle), and published in 1883 by by Charles Scribner's Sons. [back]

8. The slip announced the resignation of Dr. William Osler from the University of Pennsylvania and his acceptance of a position at The Johns Hopkins University. Sir William Osler (1849–1919) was a Canadian physician and one of the four founding staff members of Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he served as the first Chief of Medicine. Richard Maurice Bucke introduced Osler to Whitman in 1885 in order to care for the aging poet. Osler wrote a manuscript about his personal and professional relationship with Whitman in 1919; see Walt Whitman and Sir William Osler: A Poet and his Physician [Toronto: ECW Press, 1995]). For more on Osler, see Philip W. Leon, "Osler, Dr. William (1849–1919)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on the relationship of Osler and Whitman, see Michael Bliss, William Osler: A Life in Medicine (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999). [back]


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