Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 24 October 1891

Date: October 24, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07893

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 item: Young's stationery was a single folded sheet that created four surfaces. He wrote his letter to Whitman on surface one (which had a printed letterhead), left the verso (surface 2) blank, completed his letter on surface three, and left the verso (surface 4) blank. Whitman then wrote his own letter to Bucke on the blank surface 4. See loc.04889.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, Andrew David King, and Stephanie Blalock

page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4
page image
image 5
page image
image 6

3 P M Oct: 24 '91

Feeling fairly (no mark'd bad pressure)—This is f'm John Russell Young2—declined with thanks—sent word to Frank Carpenter3 I w'd sit—Jeannette Gilder4 N Y. & three charming girls just here—I consider J G, & Jo:5 & the Critic, old & real & valuable friends—(have never halted or wavered)—the English "nibbling" pub'rs are Heinemann6 & Balestier7 (& it w'd seem J G Lovell8 N Y) & I have written to Forman,9 asking him to prospect & negotiate with them—have given him absolute power10—J W W[allace]11 is here—to go down with the Staffords12 to-morrow—shall presently make my supper of oysters & a bit of pumpkin pie—

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 Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: [Camden, N.J.] | Oct 24 | 8 PM | 91; [illegible]; Philadelphia, PA | OCT | 24 | 930PM | 1891 | Transit; London | PM. There are three partial postmarks from London, Ontario, Canada that are illegible except for the name of province and the country. Whitman's return address is printed in the left lower corner of the front of the envelope as follows: WALT WHITMAN, | CAMDEN, | NEW JERSEY. [back]

2. John Russell Young (1840–1899), a journalist and formerly minister to China, invited Whitman to an informal luncheon at the Union Club in Philadelphia in honor of Joseph Jefferson and William Jermyn Florence, stage name of Bernard Conlin, a dialect comedian, who, in Young's words, "have given the world much in the way of sunshine." He also wrote that Francis B. Carpenter (1830–1900), "who painted the Lincoln proclamation of Emancipation, told me in New York that he wanted to paint you" (Feinberg). [back]

3. Francis Bicknell Carpenter (1830–1900), the American painter best known for his portrait of Abraham Lincoln, First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln, met Whitman following one of the poet's Lincoln lectures (see "An Old Poet's Reception," The Sun (April 15, 1887). [back]

4. Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916) helped her brother, Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909), edit Scribner's Monthly and then, with another brother, Joseph Benson Gilder (1858–1936), co-edited the Critic (which she co-founded in 1881). For more, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Jeannette L. (1849–1916)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Joseph Benson Gilder (1858–1936) was, with his sister Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916), co-editor of The Critic, a literary magazine. [back]

6. William Heinemann (1863–1920) was an English publisher of Jewish heritage who published the series, "The English Library," with Wolcott Balestier (1861–1891) and founded the Heinemann publishing house in London. [back]

7. Wolcott Balestier (1861–1891) was an American writer who went to London, England, in 1888 as an agent for the publisher John W. Lovell. He became close friends with Henry James and Rudyard Kipling, who married Balestier's sister. Balestier joined with William Heinemann to form a publishing house in 1890, located in Leipzig, Germany, and dedicated to publishing continental editions of English writers. They launched their series, "The English Library," in 1891. Balestier died in December 1891 of typhoid fever in Dresden; he was a week away from his thirtieth birthday. [back]

8. Born in Montreal, Canada, John W. Lovell (1853–1932) relocated to New York City and established a publishing company dedicated to reprinting cheap editions of British books. He published both pirated and authorized editions of English titles. He was also an early Theosophist, and was one of the founders of the Theosophical Society in New York. [back]

9. Henry Buxton Forman (1842–1917), also known as Harry Buxton Forman, was most notably the biographer and editor of Percy Shelley and John Keats. On February 21, 1872, Buxton sent a copy of R. H. Horne's The Great Peace-Maker: A Sub-marine Dialogue (London, 1872) to Whitman. This poetic account of the laying of the Atlantic cable has a foreword written by Forman. After his death, Forman's reputation declined primarily because, in 1934, booksellers Graham Pollard and John Carter published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, which exposed Forman as a forger of many first "private" editions of poetry. [back]

10. See Whitman's letter to Forman of October 18, 1891. [back]

11. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Wallace, along with Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927), a physician in Bolton, founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Wallace, see Larry D. Griffin, "Wallace, James William (1853–1926)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

12. Susan (1833–1910) and George Stafford (1827–1892) were the parents of Whitman's young friend, Harry Stafford. Whitman often visited the family at their farm at Timber Creek in Laurel Springs (near Glendale), New Jersey, and was sometimes accompanied by Herbert Gilchrist; in the 1880s, the Staffords sold the farm and moved to nearby Glendale. For more, see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.