Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 22 November 1891

Date: November 22, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07955

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

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Ethan Heusser, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot

Nov: 22 '91

Pretty depress'd cond'n to-day—the tomb2 pay question (as I said3) has been turn'd over to T B Harned4 with absolute power, & he is managing it splendidly—has got me out of a hole—I offer to pay $3000 (have paid 1500 & offer 1500 more) wh' it looks now as they were going to accept & close it finally—but a day or two more will decide—Ralph Moore,5 H[orace]6 thinks, is free f'm any foul practice, & I accept that & am mighty glad so—Forman7 writes me that Heineman,8 Balestier,9 & Lovell10 want to purchase the American copyright—I do not care to sell it as at present11 minded—sitting up here in usual place & manner as I write—God bless you—

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. | Nov 22 | 5 PM | 9(?). [back]

2. In his final years, Whitman designed an elaborate granite tomb, which P. Reinhalter & Co. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, built for the poet in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey. The tomb cost $4,000. Whitman covered a portion of these costs with money that his Boston friends had raised so that the poet could purchase a summer cottage; the remaining balance was paid by Whitman's literary executor, Thomas Harned. For more information on the cemetery and Whitman's tomb, see See Geoffrey M. Still, "Harleigh Cemetery," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of November 12, 1891[back]

4. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel, was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Ralph Moore was the superintendent of Harleigh Cemetery, where Whitman had had his marble tomb built. [back]

6. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was a close acquaintance of Walt Whitman and one of the poet's literary executors. He met Whitman in 1873 and proceeded to visit the aging author almost daily beginning in mid-1880s. The result of these meetings—during which Traubel took meticulous notes—is the nine-volume collection With Walt Whitman in Camden. Later in life, Traubel also published Whitmanesque poetry and revolutionary essays. He died in 1919, shortly after he claimed to have seen a vision of Whitman beckoning him to 'Come on'. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. (1858–1919), Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 740–741. [back]

7. 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]

8. 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]

9. 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]

10. 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]

11. In Bucke's letter to Whitman of November 24, 1891, he encourages Whitman to sell the book and "let it be given to the world." [back]


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