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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 3 June 1889


I have today the new L. of G. "31 May 1889."1 It is a lovely little book. I am thoroughly delighted with it. I have a few cuttings from eastern papers this evening (sent by a friend) in re dinner.2 Very glad to see that you were actually present and (more than I expected) spoke a few words.3 I shall hope to have the papers in full and some short account of the affair in M.S. from you or Horace.4 I judge from what I see in the papers that the dinner was a success. I am rejoiced, dear friend, that you have stayed with us to get out the big5 and the last eds. and for this dinner It will surely be patent to all now that you have come to stay—patent or not to the rest it is to me an evident fact. It is wonderfull loc_es.00602.jpg how much more grip you seem to have on the world now than even five years ago and the last year even has made an immense difference. Yes, Walt, you are undoubtedly an institution and if I live another twenty years (which is very doubtful!) I shall not be surprised to see my highest claims for you (for making which I have been counted a lunatic)6 broadly and even generally allowed. My copy of Sarrazin7 has come to hand by the afternoon's mail—it is as you said, a lovely little book.8 Our spell of dark, cold, rainy weather has let up at last and we have summer again—not very warm yet but getting warm—it is now 5 P.M. a charming warm, bright evening: our lilacs are out and the grounds look well

Love to you, dear Walt 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. In his letter of June 1, 1889, Whitman told Bucke that he sent a copy of the pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass. The poet had the special pocket-book edition printed in honor of his 70th birthday (May 31, 1889) through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). Bucke's copy of the 1889 pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass is described in the Sotheby & Co (1935) and the American Art Association (1936) auction catalogues of his Whitman collection. The item is numbered 11 and 294, respectively. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. Whitman's speech is published in Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1889), 5. This volume consisted of the notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration on May 31, 1889 in Camden, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. It also 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. Traubel provides a report of the proceedings in With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, May 31, 1889. [back]
  • 4. Whitman gave Bucke a report of the proceedings in his letter of June 4–5, 1889. [back]
  • 5. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," was published by the poet himself—in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 6. Richard Watson Gilder, the editor of The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine and the most distinguished guest at the birthday dinner, had referred to Bucke as "that Canadian crank." Although Gilder made this remark to Thomas Harned in private, Harned repeated it to both Whitman and Traubel. Whitman, of course, defended Bucke: "Bucke is no crank at all—he is simply individualistic. If to be individualistic is to be a crank, then he is one—not otherwise" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, June 5, 1889 and Saturday, June 1, 1889). [back]
  • 7. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. Bucke is referring to Gabriel Sarrazin's La Renaissance de la Poésie Anglaise, 1798-1889 (Paris: Perrin, 1889). [back]
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