Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 10 July 1889

Date: July 10, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07675

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. . Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Braden Krien, Caterina Bernardini, Ryan Furlong, Ashlyn Stewart, and Stephanie Blalock

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noon July 10 '891

Fearful heat here now a week & at present looks like continued—thro' wh' tho' I get along better than you m't suppose. Am taking the tonic—it (or something) relieves me the last two days of the worst of the weakness, caving-in & head inertia—but I feel it, the dose, for an hour after taking in my head & stomach very perceptibly & very uncomfortably—bowel action yesterday & also this forenoon, quite good—Ed2 stands it first rate—a note f'm Kennedy3 this mn'g, enclosed—nothing notable—he is half ill tho' this summer—nothing ab't his book—the printers are working at Horace's4 dinner5 book6

Have been dipping in the new French book Amiel's Journal Intime translated by Mrs: Humphrey Ward.7 He is evidently an orthodox conservative determined to stand by his (moth-eaten) colors, tho' modern science & democracy draw the earth from under his very feet—He is constantly examining, discussing himself, like a health-seeker dwelling forever on his own stomach—I heard it was a great book & going to be established—but I say no to both—his is one of those college pessimistic dudes Europe (& America too) sends out8

I am sitting here in my big chair—every thing still—just drank a great drink of iced lemonade (pleasant but non-healthy)—After a New York boy's slang, I conclude by sending you good roots

Walt Whitman

July 9th '899

Well-beloved friend:—

Thy card rec'd10 & welcomed. I too have rec'd wht I tho't rather cheery letters fr. Mrs. O'C.11 although mentioning her meagre funds. I have offered & agreed to return her $5.00—one of Wm's12 subscriptions, thinking one of my books wd be enough for her. We have invited her to come out & see us when she passes thro' Boston & may be able to advise & help her. Hope so. The wife of such a Philip Sidney13 of a man as O'C. demands chivalrous treatment if we wd emulate the virtues of him, so I think & shall act. Am feeling worse in health this summer & spring than is usual w. me.

Sl. Kennedy.

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 Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jul 10 | 8 PM | 89; London | AM | JY 12 | 89 | Canada. [back]

2. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

3. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. 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]

5. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

6. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in Camden, on May 31, 1889, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]

7. Mary Augusta Ward (1851–1920) was a British novelist who wrote under her married name, Mrs. Humphry Ward. Robert Elsmere was by far her most popular novel, and one that inspired discussions on the role of Christian beliefs in modern England. [back]

8. Traubel brought the poet a copy of Mrs. Ward's translation of Amiel's Journal: The Journal of Intime of Henri-Frederic Amiel (London, 1889) on July 7, 1889. (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, July 7, 1889). On July 26, Whitman commented: "It is very introspective—very full of sin—of looking sinwards—a depressing book in fact" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, July 26, 1889). [back]

9. This postal card is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: North Cambridge Sta. | Jul 9 | 8AM | N Mass; Camden, NJ | Jul | 10 | 6am | 1889 | Rec'd. Whitman included this postal card as an enclosure in his July 10, 1889, letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke. [back]

10. Kennedy is likely referring to Whitman's letter of July 7, 1889[back]

11. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

12. 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]

13. Philip Sidney (1554–1586) was an English poet. He authored the sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella and the popular romance, the Arcadia[back]


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