Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 11 June 1891

Date: June 11, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08062

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, Jason McCormick, Stephanie Blalock, and Brandon James O'Neil

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June 11 '91 Evn'g:

Y'rs of yesterday just rec'd2—Horace3 must make up the acc't, & send it (or bring it) in double-quick time—for Stoddart4 is in a stew ab't it & is keeping the mag: back for it—If he H. gets here to furnish S with it Monday even'g, I guess he S will be mollified—if not, not. He has persuaded me to sign a hasty page (criticism) I sent for him to use or throw away—wh' he intends to put so verbatim in mag.—Letters f'm Bolton to-day5—good weather, warm—I have just made my supper—some string beans & a dish Mary Davis6 makes very nicely, tomatos stew'd with onions & crumbs of well toasted bread—(a dish my mother7 made, & I inherit a weakness for)—But ab't as capital an item to transmit this even'g is of a fair bowel evac: this noon almost normal,[&?] the best in two months. My idea for the scheme of y'r full book8 w'd be—

a rambling free art: by you
another by Horace
the poet of Joy10
Rolleston's11 Dresden lecture
Kennedy's12 Dutch Piece13


Dr14 L15 here this evn'g—

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. | Jun 11 | 8 PM | 91; Philadelphia, P.A. | Jun | 11 | 9PM | 1891 | Transit; London | PM | JU [illegible] | 91 | Canada. Whitman has crossed out the name and address written on this envelope and written Bucke's name and address at the top. He wrote this letter on stationery printed with the following notice from the Boston Evening Transcript: "From the Boston Eve'g Transcript, May 7, '91.—The Epictetus saying, as given by Walt Whitman in his own quite utterly dilapidated physical case is, a 'little spark of soul dragging a great lumux of corpse-body clumsily to and fro around.'" [back]

2. Whitman is referring to Bucke's letter of June 10, 1891[back]

3. 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]

4. Joseph Marshall Stoddart (1845–1921) published Stoddart's Encyclopaedia America, established Stoddart's Review in 1880, which was merged with The American in 1882, and became the editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1886. On January 11, 1882, Whitman received an invitation from Stoddart through J. E. Wainer, one of his associates, to dine with Oscar Wilde on January 14 (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 235n). [back]

5. It is uncertain which letters are being referred to here. [back]

6. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)." [back]

8. Horace Traubel and Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke were beginning to make plans for a collected volume of writings by and about Whitman. Bucke, Traubel, and Thomas Harned—Whitman's three literary executors—edited In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), which included the three unsigned reviews of the first edition of Leaves of Grass that were written by Whitman himself, William Sloane Kennedy's article, "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman," and Robert Ingersoll's lecture Liberty in Literature (delivered in honor of Whitman at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall on October 21, 1890), as well as writings by the naturalist John Burroughs and by James W. Wallace, a co-founder of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship in Bolton, England. [back]

9. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Whitman is referring to "Walt Whitman: the Poet of Joy" by Standish O'Grady, a lawyer and celebrated Irish poet. See Standish O'Grady, "Walt Whitman: Poet of Joy," Selected Essays and Passages (Dublin: Talbot Press, 1918), 269–290. [back]

11. Thomas William Hazen Rolleston (1857–1920) was an Irish poet and journalist. After attending college in Dublin, he moved to Germany for a period of time. He wrote to Whitman frequently, beginning in 1880, and later produced with Karl Knortz the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry into German. In 1889, the collection Grashalme: Gedichte [Leaves of Grass: Poems] was published by Verlags-Magazin in Zurich, Switzerland. See Walter Grünzweig, Constructing the German Walt Whitman (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995). For more information on Rolleston, see Walter Grünzweig, "Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (1857–1920)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

12. 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). Apparently Kennedy had 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]

13. Whitman is referring to Kennedy's article "Walt Whitman's Dutch Traits." Horace Traubel published the article in The Conservator 1 (February 1891): 90–91. It was reprinted in In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), ed. Horace L. Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned, 195–199. [back]

14. Whitman wrote this postscript in the left margin. [back]

15. Daniel Longaker (1858–1949) was a Philadelphia physician who specialized in obstetrics. He became Whitman's doctor in early 1891 and provided treatment during the poet's final illness. For more information, see Carol J. Singley, "Longaker, Dr. Daniel [1858–1949]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R.LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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