Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 16 November 1889

Date: November 16, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07733

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Related items: Whitman wrote this letter to Bucke in two parts; one at noon and one in the evening. He wrote each of the two parts of this letter on a repurposed envelope in which he had previously received a letter from another correspondent. He opened the envelope that had accompanied the letter he had received from T. W. Aston on October 28, 1889, and then used the inside of the envelope as writing paper when composing the first part—written at noon—of the letter to Bucke. He wrote the second part—his evening note—to Bucke on an envelope that accompanied a letter from an unknown correspondent. The envelope bears the postmark of November 8, 1889. See loc.07877.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Saturday noon Nov: 16

Bright sunny cold day—feeling fairly—bowel action—an egg, Graham toast, stew'd peaches & cocoa for breakfast—reading & scribbling aimlessly—a lull in visitors, mail &c—Mrs. O'C[onnor]2 must be in Washington D C same address—Wm3 left two great boxes of MSS wh' she is to overhaul—he had for many years been at intervals on a story "the Brazen Android"4—quaint and old & mystic—was once sent out & partly set in type (by the Atlantic) & then recall'd by O'C—

I am sitting here as usual (the same old story)—have a good oak-wood fire—am ab't to have my currying—makes a good midday break indeed—very sunny out—


Sat: Evn'g—6½—Mrs: O'C did not go—leaves Monday—has been over here a couple of hours—is having a nice visit to Phila—Alys Smith5 & a fellow student girl have been here this evn'g—good visits, talks &c—

Clear weather continued—Y'rs rec'd & welcomed—Am feeling fairly—Suspicion of more strength in me—splendid effect f'm electric light shining in on big bunch of snowy white chrysanthemums—


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. | Nov 16 | 8 PM | 89; Buffalo, N.Y. | Nov | [illegible] | 1889 | Transit; London | AM | NO 18 | 89 | Canada. [back]

2. 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]

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 Brazen Android" was included in William Douglas O'Connor's Three Tales (1892), with "The Ghost" and "The Carpenter." [back]

5. Alyssa ("Alys") Whitall Pearsall Smith (1867–1951) was born in Philadelphia and became a Quaker relief organizer. She attended Bryn Mawr College and was a graduate of the class of 1890. She and her family lived in Britain for two years during her childhood and again beginning in 1888. She married the philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1894; the couple later separated, and they divorced in 1921. Smith also served as the chair of a society committee that set up the "Mothers and Babies Welcome" (the St Pancras School for Mothers) in London in 1907; this health center, dedicated to reducing the infant mortality rate, provided a range of medical and educational services for women. Smith was the daughter of Robert Pearsall and Hannah Whitall Smith, and she was the sister of Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945), the political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." [back]


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