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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 19 December 1870

 loc_es.00157.jpg see notes July 16 '88 Walt Whitman, Dear Sir:

Will you please send to the enclosed address two copies of "Leaves of Grass," one copy of "Passage to India"2 and one copy of "Democratic Vistas."3 Enclosed you will find $7.25—$6.75 for the books and $0.50 for postage. I do not know exactly what this last item will be but I fancy $0.50 will be enough to pay it.

I am an old reader of your works, and a very great admirer of them.  loc_es.00158.jpg About two years ago I borrowed a copy of the 1855 edition4 of "Leaves of Grass" and I have a great ambition to own a copy of this edition myself; would it be possible to get one? Before getting that the only thing I had ever seen of yours was Rossetti's5 selection.6 Lately I have got a copy of the 1867 edition7 of "Leaves of Grass" and I have compared the "Walt Whitman" in that with the same poem in the 1855 edition and I must say I like the earlier edition best.

I have an idea that I shall  loc_es.00159.jpg be in Washington in the course of 1871; if I am it would give me much pleasure to see you, if you would not object. I am afraid, however, that, like other celebrities, you have more people call upon you than you care about seeing; in that case I should not wish to annoy you—At all events

Believe me Faithfully yours, R. M. Bucke— Address Dr. R. Maurice Bucke Sarnia Ontario Canada  loc_es.00160.jpg

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 is the first letter Bucke ever sent to Whitman and marks the beginning of their correspondence, which would continue until Whitman's death in 1892. [back]
  • 2. First printed as a separate publication containing the title poem, some new poetry, and a number of poems previously published in Leaves of Grass, "Passage to India" was Whitman's attempt to "celebrate in my own way, the modern engineering masterpieces . . . the great modern material practical energy & works," including the completion of the Suez Canal (1869), the Union and Central Pacific transcontinental railroad (1869), and the completion of the Atlantic Cable (1866) (see Whitman's April 22, 1870, letter to Moncure D. Conway). Although Whitman submitted the poem to the Overland Monthly on April 4, 1870, it was rejected on April 13, 1870, for being "too long and too abstract for the hasty and material-minded readers of the O. M." Conway, Walt Whitman's agent in England, was not able to sell the poem to an English journal. John Burroughs observed in the second edition of his Notes on Walt Whitman as a Poet and Person (1871), 123: "The manuscript of Passage to India was refused by the monthly magazines successively in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and London." The poem was eventually included in the final three editions of Leaves of Grass, published in 1871, 1881, and 1891. For more information on "Passage to India," see John B. Mason, "'Passage to India' (1871)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Whitman's Democratic Vistas was first published in 1871 in New York by J.S. Redfield. The volume was an eighty-four-page pamphlet based on three essays, "Democracy," "Personalism," and "Orbic Literature," all of which Whitman intended to publish in the Galaxy magazine. Only "Democracy" and "Personalism" appeared in the magazine. For more information on Democratic Vistas, see Arthur Wrobel, "Democratic Vistas [1871]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. Whitman's first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855) was printed by the Rome brothers in a small shop at the intersection of Fulton and Cranberry in Brooklyn. For the cover, Whitman chose a dark green ribbed morocco cloth, and the volume included an engraving of a daguerreotype of Whitman, a full-body portrait, in working clothes and a hat. The book included a preface and twelve poems. For more information on the first edition of Leaves of Grass, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books / Books Making Whitman (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 5. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. The English edition of Walt Whitman's poems was released on February 5, 1868; see William Michael Rossetti, Rossetti Papers (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1903), 297. [back]
  • 7. The fourth edition of Leaves of Grass (1867) was issued by the New York printer William E. Chapin. Often called the "workshop" edition, the volume consisted of four separately paginated books stitched together (an edited version of the 1860 Leaves of Grass, reissues of Drum-Taps and Sequel to Drum-Taps, and a coda called Songs Before Parting) between two covers. For more on the fourth edition, see Luke Mancuso, "Leaves of Grass, 1867 edition," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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