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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 24 January 1888

Just after 2 P M—Yours of 22d has just come—Have you rec'd a letter from J H Johnston2 proposing that you & Mr P[ardee]3 & he go to Havana?— very cold here now for eight days—The cold affects me unfavorably, but I think I feel somewhat better—(somewhat plus)—no late news of O'C[onnor]4—I rec'd a letter this mn'g from NY Herald, from J G B[ennett]5 himself ask'g me to write for the paper6—I have just had my dinner, corned beef & mince pie.


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 (?)4 | 8 PM | 88. [back]
  • 2. John H. Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler and close friend of Whitman. Johnston was also a friend of Joaquin Miller (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, August 14, 1888). Whitman visited the Johnstons for the first time early in 1877. In 1888 he observed to Horace Traubel: "I count [Johnston] as in our inner circle, among the chosen few" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 3, 1888). See also Johnston's letter about Whitman, printed in Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1915), 149–174. For more on Johnston, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Timothy Blair Pardee (1830–1889) was a Canadian lawyer and politician, member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontaria, Canada, and Minister of the Crown. Pardee appointed Richard Maurice Bucke, with whom he was a close friend, as the Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in Hamilton at its founding in 1876, and then the next year as Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in London. For more on Pardee, see H. V. Nelles, "Pardee, Timothy Blair," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. 11 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982). [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. James Gordon Bennett Jr. (1841–1918) was the publisher of the New York Herald, which had been founded by his father in 1835. For more on the paper and the many poems by Whitman that were published in it, see Susan Belasco, "The New York Herald." [back]
  • 6. On January 23, 1888, Bennett suggested that contributions on "any subject whatever that may suit your fancy can be treated. The Herald would be very willing to pay a reasonable compensation for this work, and only as much as you desire need be signed. The stanzas need not contain more than 4 to 6 lines." Beginning on January 27 and continuing until May 27, Whitman submitted the following pieces, for which he received $180 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.): January 27, "To Those Who've Failed"; January 29, "Halcyon Days"; February 3, "After the Dazzle of Day"; February 11, "America"; February 15, "True Conquerors"; February 21, "Soon Shall the Winter's Foil Be Here"; February 23, "The Dismantled Ship"; February 25, "Old Salt Kossabone"; February 27, "Mannahatta"; February 29, "Paumanok"; March 1, "From Montauk Point"; March 2, "My Canary Bird"; March 9, "A Prairie Sunset"; March 10, "The Dead Emperor"; March 12, "The First Dandelion"; March 16, "The Wallabout Martyrs"; March 18, "The Bravest Soldiers"; March 19, "Orange Buds by Mail from Florida"; March 20, "Continuities"; April 10, "Broadway"; April 15, "Life"; April 16, "To Get the Final Lilt of Songs"; April 23, "To-day and Thee"; May 2, "Queries to My Seventieth Year"; May 8, "The United States to Old World Critics"; May 10, "Out of May's Shows Selected"; May 14, "As I Sit Writing Here"; May 21, "A Carol Closing Sixty-Nine"; May 23, "Life and Death"; May 27, "The Calming Thought of All." (To avoid confusion Miller has consistently used the titles established in the last edition of Leaves of Grass.) [back]
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