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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 31 January 1889


A fine day, sunny, pleasantly cool. All well, here, ab't the same as of late. Y'rs of 28th came—am quite concerned ab't the fire, & Ed2 is too—reads all ab't it with interest3—has the Revue come yet? I told K4 he need not be any special haste, but must send it sure before long—he has made & sent me a fragmentary trans:5 of part that I have had my printer put in type & will soon in probably three or four days send you a copy—it is tip-top, warm & appreciative—

Ed & I are keeping the house to-day as Mrs: Davis6 has gone to Phila: to attend a law-suit. She sued Wm Duckett,7 the boy who was with us, for ab't $150, for his many months' board, (after waiting & being fooled eighteen months or more)8—A lady has just call'd & bo't four copies Nov: Boughs9 & order'd more—a bowel dejection to-day (partial but definite)—am feeling pretty well considering to-day—(a suspicion of something like strength)—Tom Harned10 here last evn'g—good—that new baby must be splendid—Mrs: H11 is well—(she is a rare superior woman)—

The piece enclosed is Edw'd Carpenter's,12 as you will see13—(Nov: B is more likely to be read and take than any other of my books)—

3 P M—Mrs. D has just come back—the case is postponed—no trial yet—may come up to-morrow—fine day out & out—I am comfortable—good oak fire—

Walt Whitman  loc_as.00259_large.jpg  loc_as.00257_large.jpg  loc_as.00258_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 31 | 8 PM | 89; London | AM | FE 2 | 89 | Canada. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. This letter has not been identified. Bucke briefly mentions the fire in his letter to Whitman of January 26, 1889. [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Whitman is referring to Gabriel Sarrazin's "Poetes modernes de l'Amerique, Walt Whitman," which appeared in La Nouvelle Revue, 52 (May 1, 1888), 164–184. Whitman had asked both William Sloane Kennedy and Richard Maurice Bucke to make an abstract in English of it (see Whitman's letter to Kennedy of January 22, 1889, and to Bucke of January 27, 1889). Sarrazin's piece is reprinted in an English translation by Harrison S. Morris in In Re (1893, pp. 159–194). Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 609. [back]
  • 6. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. William H. Duckett (1869–1902?) was Whitman's young Camden friend, who drove the poet's horse and buggy, lived for a while in Whitman's house, and accompanied Whitman on numerous trips. Duckett later established a career in the telegraphy industry; he lived and worked in Ohio and North Carolina before passing away in his native Philadelphia as a result of alcoholism in about 1902. For more information on Duckett, see Stephanie M. Blalock and Brandon James O'Neil, "'I am more interested than you know, Bill,': The Life and Times of William Henry Duckett, Jr.," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 39.2-3 (2022), 89–117. [back]
  • 8. Whitman was violently exercised about this "young scamp" and "young scoundrel" (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, February 1, 1889). However, on June 27, 1889, he sent Duckett $10 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; see also Traubel, Thursday, June 27, 1889). When Duckett asked for $10 or $15 on December 20, 1889, Whitman refused. [back]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel, was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 11. Augusta Anna Traubel Harned (1856–1914) was Horace Traubel's sister. She married Thomas Biggs Harned, a lawyer in Philadelphia and, later, one of Whitman's literary executors. [back]
  • 12. 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]
  • 13. Whitman is referring to Carpenter's review of November Boughs in The Scottish Art Review (see also the notes to Whitman's letter to Carpenter of January 16, 1889). [back]
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