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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 10 May 1889


Although you did not enclose Mrs O'C's1 card with yours of 8th2 (you have probably seen the card lying about since you sent the letter) yet I judge from the tenor of what you say that your O'C.3 is very sick. You will feel bad about it I know and it is very natural you should still it is my decided conviction that we shall be all better off went​ we get out of our present state than we are at present. And though I would gladly see O'Connor well yet (that being out of the question, I fear) the next best thing I think will be for him to leave us. Poor fellow! it will only be a very little while untill we rejoin him and we will settle then whether the whole thing was or was not well planned! I am glad to hear that they are looking up a chair4  loc_es.00580.jpgfor you.5 If (having a chair) you were living in a cottage with a lawn, trees &c &c. and living on the ground floor (as might all be arranged well enough) there is no reason why you should not spend a good part of your time during the summer in your chair on the grass, under the trees, among the flowers. You are not tied to one house (and that about the worst house and the worst situated that could be found for you) and there is no reason at all why you should not go where you would have the surroundings you need.6 Why not get Horace7 to look about for a good cottage for you? I hope to see you before a very great while

Love to you 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. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. On May 8, 1889, Whitman wrote Bucke: "The word from O'C is bad as you can see by the enclosed card—in some respects the worst yet—I am feeling badly depress'd ab't it to-day as you may think." Whitman might have intended to send the postal card from Ellen O'Connor dated April 30, 1889. It is the only extant correspondence from Ellen before she wrote the poet of her husband's death on May 9, 1889. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889. [back]
  • 5. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, May 6, 1889; Tuesday, May 7, 1889; and Saturday, May 11, 1889. [back]
  • 6. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 14, 1889. [back]
  • 7. 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]
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