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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 21 October 1888

Again "the same subject continued"—decidedly cold to-day—a good fire needed—I ate a good breakfast of stew'd chicken, brown bread, a roast apple & chocolate ab't 10—am writing & reading a little—friendly notices of Nov: B.2 in Bost: Transcript (by Kennedy)3—& in to-day's Phila: Press (I don't know who)4—Probably you have got them sent you—if not say when you write & I will send—a friendly two or three sticks' full in N Y Herald three weeks ago5—did you get it? mostly ab't E Hicks6—I suppose you got Mary Costelloe's7 letter to me, I had forwarded you—

No Ostler8 now over a week (is that a good sign of his verdict on me?)—bowel movements fair—no hitch in the progress of the big book,9 but slow—my dull indomitable inertia of body & brain tyrannic as ever—This enc: f'm Critic just rec'd—I have ans'd—sh[or]t letter may appear in next C10

Walt Whitman

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: Dr R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden (?) | Oct 21 | 5 PM | 88. [back]
  • 2. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. According to Traubel, the review in the Press was written by Melville Philips. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, October 21, 1888. [back]
  • 5. See Whitman's September 18–19, 1888, letter to Richard Maurice Bucke. [back]
  • 6. Elias Hicks (1748–1830) was a traveling Quaker preacher and anti-slavery activist from Long Island, New York. Whitman's long essay on Hicks appeared in November Boughs. For more on Hicks, see Henry Watson Wilbur, The Life and Labors of Elias Hicks (Philadelphia: Friends' General Conference Advancement Committee, 1910). [back]
  • 7. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, 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]
  • 8. Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) was an American novelist and autobiographer, known especially for his works about the hardships of farm life in the American Midwest. For his relationship to Whitman, see Thomas K. Dean, "Garland, Hamlin," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). Whitman sometimes misspells or is inconsistent in his spellings of the names of William Osler, his doctor, and Hamlin Garland. He writes "Ostler" when he means "Osler" and refers to Garland as "Harland." [back]
  • 9. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. 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]
  • 10. In a form letter on October 19, 1888, J. L. and J. B. Gilder of The Critic asked for Walt Whitman's "answer to the question raised by Mr. Edmund Gosse in his paper in the October Forum, entitled 'Has America Produced a Poet?'—the question, namely, whether any American poet, not now living, deserves a place among the thirteen 'English inheritors of unassailed renown.'" Walt Whitman sent his reply on October 20, 1888, which J. B. Gilder acknowledged on November 17, 1888 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, November 18, 1888). Whitman's response was published in the November 24, 1888, Critic, along with responses by many other writers (including John Greenleaf Whittier, John Burroughs, Francis Parkman, and Julia Ward Howe). See also Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, October 22, 1888. [back]
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