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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 25–26 December 1888

Well Christmas has come & nearly gone—I hope you & all have enjoyed it—Superb weather here now two days—My fair feelings continue, & I have had quite a generous slice of turkey with some cranberries for my dinner an hour ago & a cup of coffee—the most of a meal for me for four months—

Every thing quiet here—some visitors, a young Englishman, Rathbone,2 son of the man of the address on the "nude" I use in my printed piece—& several others—(some of whom I declined)—I rec'd a letter (enclosed) from John Burroughs3 this morn'g4—nothing very new—I wish you to tell me the tariff and freight of the four books, & whether they reach'd you in good order—I have been reading Tolstoi's "Sebastopol Sketches," Englished very well by Frank D. Millet, in a French translation—I found it very absorbing, sharp & hard—with a strongly eulogistic preface by W D Howells5—a little book pub'd by Harpers6—Horace7 bro't it to me—8½ Horace pays his welcome evening visit—

Wednesday 26th—10¾ A M

I continue fairly—have had my breakfast, & the fine weather continues—two welcome letters from you this morning's mail—I watch with interest the meter—Gurd8 fortunes & struggles—Well for now New years—& then 1889—God bless you & yours—

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: Cam(?) | Dec 26 (?) | 1 30 PM | 88. [back]
  • 2. Rathbone was the son of the writer, philanthropist, and English politician Phillip Henry Rathbone (1828–1895), whose essay on the "Undraped Figure in Art" Whitman quotes in "A Memorandum at a Venture" (in Floyd Stovall, Prose Works 1892, 495-496)." See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, December 24, 1888 and Tuesday, December 25, 1888. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. See John Burroughs's brief note to Whitman of December 23, 1888. [back]
  • 5. William Dean Howells (1837–1920) was an American realist novelist and literary critic, serving the staff of the New York Nation and Harper's Magazine during the mid 1860s. During his tenure as editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Monthly from 1871 to 1880, he was one of the foremost critics in New York, and used his influence to support American authors like Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, and Emily Dickinson. He also brought attention to European authors like Henrik Ibsen, Giovanni Verga, and Leo Tolstoy in particular. Howells was highly skeptical of Whitman's poetry, however, and frequently questioned his literary merit. In an Ashtabula Sentinel review of the 1860 edition Leaves of Grass, Howells wrote, "If he is indeed 'the distinctive poet of America,' then the office of poet is one which must be left hereafter to the shameless and the friendless. for WALT WHITMAN is not a man whom you would like to know." In 1865, Howells would write the first important review of Drum-Taps in the Round Table, demonstrating early signs of his conflicted opinion about Whitman. For more information on Howells, see Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson, William Dean Howells: A Writer's Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). [back]
  • 6. Leo Tolstoy's Sebastopol Sketches was published by Harper's in an English translation by Frank D. Millet in 1887. [back]
  • 7. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. 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]
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