Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 28–29 October 1890

Date: October 28–29, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08248

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.

Contributors to digital file: Ryan Furlong, Brandon James O'Neil, Jason McCormick, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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Mickle St Camden1
8½ PM Oct: 28—

Sitting here alone in my den—rather a bad day—this grip on me heavily—sweating a little the last hour & rather better—y'r good letter of 26th2 came at sundown mail & has somehow cheer'd me—had my supper & relish'd it—oysters,—havn't rec'd "Old Poets"3 yet but I believe it is in the Nov. N A Review4—you will see how (intentionally) gossipy it is—I wonder whether I had better adhere to that way & style wh' is very easy to my fingers & rather pleasant as work to my mind—

Have been putting the last hour in a leisurely body bath—& shall have a good massage in a short hour f'm now, as I get to bed—Give my love to dear boy Pardee,5 & tell him I remember him well, & hope to see him yet6—the Boston Trans7 gives an item to the Lafayette evening lunch & copies the "Midnight Visitor"8 wonderfully correctly as recited by me—the Ing:9 affair seems to be largely newspaperially commented on pro & con, & reported everywhere10—shoals of vermin enemies of W W are roused too with their strange shocking slanders ("at wh' innocence itself is confounded" as O'C11 used to say)

29th Oct: am—dark wet forenoon—good bowel action—Wm Ingram12 here this mn'g—nothing new—ab't as usual with me—my love to you Horace13—Tom14 is in the midst of the (local) political whirl—I finish as I sit here alone by the stove

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 (?) | Oct 30 | 6 AM 90(?). [back]

2. See Bucke's letter to Whitman of October 26, 1891[back]

3. On October 3, 1890, Whitman accepted an invitation to write for The North American Review. He sent them "Old Poets," the first of a two-part contribution, on October 9[back]

4. The North American Review was the first literary magazine in the United States. The journalist Charles Allen Thorndike Rice (1851–1889) edited and published the magazine in New York from 1876 until his death. After Rice's death, Lloyd Bryce became owner and editor. [back]

5. Whitman is referring to Richard Maurice Bucke's son, Edward Pardee Bucke (1875–1913), apparently named after Dr. Bucke's friend, the politician Timothy Blair Pardee. Edward, often called "Pardee," was the fifth of eight children of Dr. Bucke and his wife Jessie. He would receive his M.D. from the Univeristy of Western Ontario in 1897 and practice otolaryngology in London, Ontario. [back]

6. In Bucke's letter to Whitman of October 26, he wrote: "Horace is quite struck with Pardee (your old favorite) and thinks him a splendid boy" (Feinberg). On October 27, Traubel himself wrote to Whitman of the "Grecian loveliness of expression & demeanor" of two of Bucke's children, Ina and Pardee (Feinberg). [back]

7. The Boston Evening Transcript, founded by Henry Dutton (1796–1869) and James Wentworth in 1830, was a daily evening newspaper in Boston, Massachusetts, published until 1941. [back]

8. Whitman is referring to a poem called "The Midnight Visitor" by French writer Henri Murger (1822–1861). Whitman was known to have recited the poem to great effect. Thomas B. Harned notes in his Memoirs that, while Whitman "never recited his own poems at the table," he did have a "fine clear voice and was a good elocutionist. He had a version of 'The Midnight Visitor' by Berger [sic]" (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972, p. 34). Traubel confirms this as well, writing that Whitman recited the poem "with gusto" and "was much applauded" for his performance (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, October 21, 1890). In periodical reprints of the poem, Whitman was often cited as author, and in some cases as translator (for more, see especially Alejandro Omidsalar, Ashley Palmer, Stephanie M. Blalock, and Matt Cohen, "Walt Whitman's Poetry Reprints and the Study of Nineteenth-Century Literary Circulation," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 35, 2017, pp. 1–44). [back]

9. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

10. In October of 1890, Col. Robert Ingersoll gave a talk to benefit Whitman in Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall and then afterwards attended a dinner for the poet at the Lafayette Hotel, where the two discussed religion and death, and where Whitman recited Murger's "The Midnight Visitor." The event was widely covered in newspapers; see, for example, this report in The World (October 26, 1890). [back]

11. 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]

12. William Ingram, a Quaker, kept a tea store—William Ingram and Son Tea Dealers—in Philadelphia. Of Ingram, Whitman observed to Horace Traubel: "He is a man of the Thomas Paine stripe—full of benevolent impulses, of radicalism, of the desire to alleviate the sufferings of the world—especially the sufferings of prisoners in jails, who are his protégés" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, May 20, 1888). Ingram and his wife visited the physician Richard Maurice Bucke and his family in Canada in 1890. [back]

13. 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 late 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]

14. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), 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). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]


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