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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 2 September 1888

A perfect day—sunny cool—I felt easier this morning when I got up—(anticipate better feelings when the cooler weather comes—but we shall see)—Mr and Mrs Edward Coates2 have been over to see me—a cheery nice little visit—her atmosphere & talk were medicinal & inspiriting—he bo't the centennial ed'n—$10—I have had a good letter3 from O'Connor4—also f'm Kennedy5—the little "Old Age's Lambent Peaks" appears in the just out Century6—Maurice, I should like you to have my mare Nettie and phaeton (if it should come in) as pay for the $200 I owe you7I am deliberate ab't it—the only thing is whether you could take them in—W'd that work well, & be desirable? Could you have any one who w'd take the mare & wagon & see them right to deliver to you? If so I wish it so—The vols: Nov Boughs8 and the big book9 will be good bits of typography & press work, I think—no special news ab't me—all comfortable—

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, N.J. | Sep 2 | 5 PM | 88. [back]
  • 2. Edward and Florence Earle Coates visited Whitman at his Camden home a number of times, and he was quite fond of their company. Florence (1850–1927) was a well-known and widely published poet and a friend of the English essayist and poet Matthew Arnold, who frequently visited the Coates' home in Germantown, Philadelphia. Edward (1846–1921) was a businessman and widely admired patron of the arts, who chaired the Committee on Instruction at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he worked closely with artist Thomas Eakins. Whitman expressed great admiration for Florence Earle Coates; see, for example, Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, August 9, 1888. [back]
  • 3. William Douglas O'Connor wrote on August 31, 1888. Traubel reports that "W. was very much moved by O'Connor's letter" (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, September 1, 1888). [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. 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]
  • 6. Whitman's poem "Old Age's Lambent Peaks" appeared in the September 1888 issue of The Century Magazine. [back]
  • 7. On September 4, 1888 Bucke wrote that Whitman owed him nothing—"(the balance is the other way)"—and suggested that he sell the horse in Camden. [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 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]
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