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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 19–20 January 1889


I suppose you got the Springfield Rep'n with Sanborn's2 criticism—the San Franc: Bulletin3 with notice—& Poet-lore, the new magazine4—a fine sunny day here—somewhat cooler—much the same with me as of late, but I am getting fearfully staled with this long, long confinement—do not get any physical strength or improved ability—not a bit—The Critic (Jan: 19) comes—has a notice of Nov: Boughs, perhaps the most eulogistic & sweeping yet5—I send it to you—I am alone—stir up the fire & put in some wood—as it grows colder—have my nice lunch of ice cream & a cup of milk

Sunday Jan: 20—Cloudy & looks & feels like snow—The good bound big Vol.6 is not made by the binder yet—& goes over to the ensuing week. I shall have one for you—(I make no great calculations on satisfaction)—Send you enclosed Edward Carpenter's7 last8—no word from O'Connor.9 Horace10 rec'd a few words from John Burroughs11—He is still at his place West Park on the Hudson—seems to be so-so in health &c. working &c—

I dig away at Symond's12 Greek Poets13—very instructive & competent—his dissertations on the great poets I dwell on and again—he takes a stand on the modern & then makes a world-criticism & dissection of them—very true & acceptable & convincing to me—Ed14 is off for a two hours or more excursion on foot—I sit here by the stove—very quiet to-day—Do you get Harper's Monthly? Look in Feb: number at Howells's Editor's Study15—at a guess—God bless you all—

Walt Whitman  loc_as.00199_large.jpg  loc_as.00200_large.jpg

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, N.J. | Jan 20 | 5 PM | 89; Buffalo, NY | Jan | 21 | 12PM | 1889 | Transit; London | AM | JA 22 | 89 | Canada. [back]
  • 2. Franklin B. Sanborn (1831–1917) was an abolitionist and a friend of John Brown. In 1860, when he was tried in Boston because of his refusal to testify before a committee of the U.S. Senate, Whitman was in the courtroom (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: Macmillan, 1955], 242). He reviewed Drum-Taps in the Boston Commonwealth on February 24, 1866. He was editor of the Springfield Republican from 1868 to 1872, and was the author of books dealing with his friends Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. "A Visit to the Good Gray Poet" appeared without Sanborn's name in the Springfield Republican on April 19, 1876. For more on Sanborn, see Linda K. Walker, "Sanborn, Franklin Benjamin (Frank) (1831–1917)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. No notice of November Boughs has been found in the Bulletin, but the San Francisco Chronicle carried an anonymous notice in its January 13, 1889, issue. [back]
  • 4. Poet-lore printed a notice of November Boughs in its March issue. [back]
  • 5. The review, by W. Harrison, was titled "Walt Whitman's 'November Boughs,'" and it was the leading article in The Critic. Harrison concluded: "On the whole, all these 'boughs' together make a very rich bouquet, tied at every twig with a love-knot for the reader, and full of the unction and eloquence of a most sweet personality." Whitman observed to Traubel: "I am even inclined to rate it above all the other things so far said of the book." See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 24, 1889. [back]
  • 6. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." The volume 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, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, 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]
  • 7. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart . . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature." For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. Whitman may be referring to Carpenter's letter of December 27, 1888 or to Carpenter's letter of January 13, 1889. [back]
  • 9. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. 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]
  • 11. 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]
  • 12. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 13. Whitman refers here to John Addington Symonds' Studies of the Greek Poets (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1873–1876), in which Whitman was lauded as "more thoroughly Greek than any man of modern times." [back]
  • 14. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]
  • 15. Howells, as the review testifies, had mellowed toward Whitman's poetry over the years, perhaps under the influence of Hamlin Garland and his own developing sense of realism. Whitman termed Howells' notice "so-so" but "friendly" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 24, 1888). On January 22, 1889, Richard Maurice Bucke noted receipt of Whitman's "good, heartily welcomed letter" and the various clippings. He also mentioned a "lovely" two-page review of November Boughs in The Century Guild Hobby Horse of January by Selwyn Image. [back]
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