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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 6 March 1890


I have yours 28 Feb. and 1 March enclosing John Burroughs1 of 27 Feb.2 and the funny little wood cut. So you have become immortal in a cigar advertisement!!3 Well done! I always thought you would come to something if you stuck to your business long enough! Burroughs' letter is deeply interesting—but what ails the fellow that he is so damned pathetic? He is (I judge) fairly well fixed (as things go)—good reputation, lovely home, enough to eat &c. &c. then why is he so infernally down in the mouth all the time? I don't see anything to whine about in getting old—think (on the whole) it is rather a good joke—my strongest feeling  loc_es.00728.jpg about it is: what is to come next? That we are going to (or towards) the bad all the time does not occur to me as likely at all and if not what is there to be blue about? I have just received and answered the enclosed long letter from Mrs O'Connor4 which I am sure you would like to read—you need not return it. I have some notion that I may take a week's run about middle of April to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. I shall look out for the May Century with considerable interest.5 We are pegging away at the meter6 trying to get it on its feet and I look to succeed all in good time but it will take weeks perhaps months yet

Always affectionately 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. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's February 28–March 1, 1890, letter to Bucke. The poet enclosed Burroughs's letter of February 27. [back]
  • 3. Whitman apparently had sent Bucke an advertisement for cigars that used Whitman's image. See William White, "Walt Whitman Cigars," Walt Whitman Review 16 (September 1970), 96. [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. In his February 28–March 1, 1890, letter to Bucke, Whitman mentioned that "A Twilight Song" was going to appear in the May issue of Century. [back]
  • 6. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]
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