Life & Letters


About this Item

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

Date: November 24, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08207

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Dec 4 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot

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Medical Superintendent's
24 Nov 1891

Yours of 22d just to hand.2 I am much relieved to hear so good an account of the tomb3 settlement or probability of settlement. I think your offer is very fair and I expect they will accept it—I am sure Harned4 will secure you a fair deal. So the English folk want to buy the American copy right?5 If I were you I would sell it—so much down and a small sum per vol. (3, 4 or 5 p.c. of selling price) or sell for cash out and out. The book will never be published untill some good house gets control of it and has an interest in showing it—I would stipulate for no changes in the text and let her go. The book is finished now6—let it be given to the world—at present the world knows nothing about it and it never will if D. Mackay7 continues to handle it.

With best love—So long!
R M Bucke

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: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: LONDON | NO 24 | 91 | CANADA; PHILADELPHIA, PA | NOV | 25 | 2PM | 1891 | TRANSIT; CAMDEN, N.J. | NOV27 | 6 AM | 91 | REC'D.; RECEIVED | NOV | 26 | 1130AM | 1891 | [illegible] CAMDEN | NOV27 | 6AM | 91 | REC'D. [back]

2. Bucke is referring to Whitman's letter of November 22, 1891[back]

3. Whitman was buried in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey, on March 30, 1892, four days after his death, in an elaborate granite tomb that he designed. Reinhalter and Company of Philadelphia built the tomb, at a cost of $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]

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. In a letter to Richard Maurice Bucke dated November 22, 1891, Whitman noted that "Heineman, Balestier, & Lovell want to purchase the American copyright [to Leaves of Grass]—I do not care to sell it as at present minded." [back]

6. The 1891–1892 Leaves of Grass was copyrighted in 1891 and published by Phildelphia publisher David McKay in 1892. This volume, often referred to as the "deathbed" edition, reprints, with minor revisions, the 1881 text from the plates of Boston publisher James R. Osgood. Whitman also includes his two annexes in the book. The first annex consisted of a long prefatory essay entitled "A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads" and sixty-five poems; while the second, "Good-Bye my Fancy," was a collection of thirty-one short poems taken from the gathering of prose and poetry published under that title by McKay in 1891. For more information on this volume of Leaves, see R.W. French, "Leaves of Grass, 1891–1892, Deathbed Edition," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. David McKay (1860–1918) was a Philadelphia-based publisher, whose company, founded in 1882, printed a number of books by and about Walt Whitman in the 1880s and 1890s, such as the 1891/1892 editon of Leaves of Grass, Whitman's November Boughs, and Richard Maurice Bucke's 1883 biography of the poet. [back]


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