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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 8 November 1889


It is after tea (7 P.M.), I am over in my office—gas lit, blinds drawn down, quite snug. Received today "Le Temps"1 and your letter enclosing Kennedy's2 note,3 all welcome. Do not be uneasy about Mrs Costelloe,4 she is young and strong and will rally—will probably be better than ever in a year from now and will know enough to keep well next time. If I saw the least prospect of her not recovering I should feel it as a terrible calamity—but I do not—she will get well all right—do not be uneasy about that. All well here and all going right. No further word from Willy Gurd5 but I look for him here within the next 2 or 3 weeks  loc_es.00662.jpg without fail. I note what Kennedy says about the publication of the book (his "W.W.")6 as soon as I get a few hundred that I can spare (and I look for that time to come very soon now) it is my intention to advance the funds required for I am very anxious to have K's book printed and so made safe—put on record for good. I have many other schemes to go into when the needful is forthcoming—I am not in a hurry (there is no hurry) if I live I shall see some of them through yet—

Who fights for the truth has strong backers—I am not uneasy—we shall certainly come out O.K. in the end

Best 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. Le Temps included Whitman's poem "Bravo, Paris Exposition!," which had been published in Harper's Weekly on September 28, 1889. [back]
  • 2. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Bucke is referring to Whitman's letter of November 6, 1889. Whitman enclosed the November 5, 1889, letter he had received from Kennedy with this letter to Bucke. [back]
  • 4. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about Costelloe, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. William John Gurd (1845–1903) was Richard Maurice Bucke's brother-in-law, with whom he was designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. Bucke believed the meter would be worth "millions of dollars," while Whitman remained skeptical, sometimes to Bucke's annoyance. In a March 18, 1888, letter to William D. O'Connor, Whitman wrote, "The practical outset of the meter enterprise collapsed at the last moment for the want of capital investors." For additional information, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 17, 1889, Monday, March 18, 1889, Friday, March 22, 1889, and Wednesday, April 3, 1889. [back]
  • 6. Bucke is referring to Kennedy's book manuscript "Walt Whitman, Poet of Humanity." Kennedy had reported in a letter to Whitman of January 2, 1888 that Frederick W. Wilson was willing to publish the study. But Kennedy wrote to Whitman on November 5, 1889: "Fred. Wilson writes me that if he publishes I must pay cost of production. I can't, so I write him to return the MS. to me. I must wait till I get able." Bucke planned to advance Kennedy the money for publication when the meter enterprise became profitable. Kennedy's manuscript eventually became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (1926). Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) of Paisley, Scotland, a publisher who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman, ultimately published Reminiscences of Walt Whitman in 1896 after a long and contentious battle with Kennedy over editing the book. [back]
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