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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 28 May 1889


Yours of 25th & 26th2 just to hand with its enclosures the little (welcome) photo of 1863 and the Critic cutting.3 I enclose to you (at her request, as you will see) Mrs O'Connor's4 letter of 25th (came to hand yesterday).

The dinner5 is drawing near (wish much I could be present), I trust it will be a big success and do not doubt it will be. Trust they will carry out their idea of printing speeches in a little pamphlet6 as I should enjoy reading them all greatly.

Our Annual Ball comes off 30th (Thursday evening) it is going to be quite an affair—altogether the best we have had I think.

Last Thursday evening I went to Sarnia—next morning my brother  loc_es.00596.jpgJulius, my nephew Fred. Kittermaster,7 and myself went thirty miles down the St Clair river on a steamboat taking with us a sailboat, provisions &c (fishing tackle of course). From Robert's landing (30 ms. below Sarnia) we sailed (in our small boat) some 20 ms. further down the Chanail Ecarté (a stream which puts out of the St Clair)—spent two days fishing and camping about the shores of Lake St Clair—we had a grand time, caught some black bass, perch, and a big pike and a rock bass. We sailed across Lake St Clair from Mitchell's Bay to Star Island Home (15 ms.) took steam-boat there and back to Sarnia Sunday evening—Home here Monday noon and found the Inspector waiting for me—hard at work since

R M Bucke  loc_es.00593.jpg see notes May, '89  loc_es.00594.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 letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: London | PM | MY 28 | 89 | Canada; C. D. [illegible] | 8[illegible]; Camden, N.J. | May | 30 | 6 AM | [illegible]9 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of May 25–26, 1889. [back]
  • 3. The cutting from The Critic is probably the notice of William Douglas O'Connor's death which appeared May 18, 1889. Horace Traubel had written an appreciation notice for The Critic but it was rejected. Instead, the journal printed one which Whitman called "weak enough to be namby-pamby" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 14, 1889 and Monday, May 20, 1889. Traubel's note on the envelope refers to With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, May 30, 1889. [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]
  • 6. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in Camden, on May 31, 1889, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]
  • 7. Frederick William Kittermaster (?–1904) was a lawyer in Sarnia, Ontario; he married Louisa Helen Pardee (1865–1950), the daughter of the Canadian lawyer and politician Timothy Blair Pardee, in 1888. [back]
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