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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, [8]–9 June 1889


Suppose you got the little poem2 in N Y World June 7 I sent—It was specially requested by the editor & written in an hour & a half & sent on to N Y by mail the same even'g 6th—I believe I told you I am to get $25 for it—We are all here yet under the depression of the fearful cataclysm, so deadly, so near—3

Cloudy & dull weather—bowel action to day—Y'rs rec'd4— I see you like the pocket-b'k ed'n of L of G5— yes, I am satisfied with it, everything but the press work—McK's6 current ed'n including Annex, is well printed—McKay is to start off on a long business & drumming tour west—goes in three weeks, will be away two months—

My worst present botheration is this catarrhal or head gathering, half ache, half heavy weight & discomfort—fortunately I sweat pretty easily & often—I fancy it is good for me—weather variable—coolish just now. I enclose a letter to me from John Burroughs7—and one from an old soldier boy8—lately rec'd—

Sunday, 9th A M

Rather a warm night—temperature changed greatly at evn'g—but I must have slept fairly—warm to-day here—breakfasted on rice-&-mutton-broth & asparagus & some Graham bread & coffee—fair bowel action this forenoon—rather "under the weather" yesterday & this forenoon, (but of course it will move off cloud like)—

A good Illinoisian & wife came to see me last evening—bo't a big book9—(enthusiastic ab't L of G.)—rec'd a letter f'm Mary Costelloe10—all well—

I am writing a little—"poemets"—one yesterday11—what names (if any) in Canada send me them of great wealthy public bequeathors or benefactors, like our Girard and Johns Hopkins? I want to make a piece ab't them & put names in—

Towards noon—sun out—a fine June day—

 loc.01167.001_large.jpg Dear Walt:

Yesterday on my way up to Olive to see my wife's father, who is near the end of his life's journey, I read in the Tribune of the death of Wm O'Connor.12 I​ was news I had been expecting for some time, yet it was a stunning blow for all that I know how keenly you must feel it, & you have  loc.01167.002_large.jpg my deepest sympathy. No words come to my pen adequate to express the sense of the loss we have we suffered in the death of that chivalrous & eloquent soul. How strange that his life has all passed, that I shall see or hear him no more.

And it is sad to me to think that he has left behind him no work or book that at all expresses the measure of his great powers. What loc.01167.003_large.jpg a gift of speech that man had! If you can tell me anything about his last days I shall be very glad to hear it. Also where he is buried.

I am pretty well, & have been immersed in farm work for the past six weeks. We have rented our house to a New York man for 5 months. Julian13 & I live in the old house with a man who works for me, & Ursula14 boards in Po'Keepsie. I hope this great heat for loc.01167.004_large.jpg the past few days has not prostrated you. Tell Harry Trauble​ 15 to write to me.

The wave of orchard bloom has just passed over us & the world has been very lovely. Drop me a line my dear friend if you are able to do so.

With the old love John Burroughs
 loc.03559.001_large.jpg My Dear Old Friend18

The enclosed I clipped from the Inter Ocean today, and as this is my 48th birthday, I am prompted by old recolections​ to write you a few lines congratulating you on your 70th birthday. I hope you will long and prosper. This brings me back to 27 years ago when I used to see your sturdy form and kindly face in Washington. I don't know that you will remember me but I think you will. Do you remember the young man of the 5th US Cavalary who you used to visit in Armory Square Hospital and the many times you used to take me into a Restaurant and give me a loc.03559.002_large.jpg  loc.03559.003_large.jpg good square meal. I suppose you done that to so many you would hardly remember me by that. for all Soldiers know​ to you looked upon you as their friend, for you ever wore your heart on your sleeve to Old Soldier boys. You used to call me Cody then. I well rember​ the last time I saw you it was in in the street in New York you had a little girl with you at the time, and readily recognised me. Well I have not changed so very much only of course somewhat older. hair sprinkled somewhat with gray. Your hair cannot be much more white than it was in the long ago. I hope you are in good health and may continue so to a good loc.03559.004_large.jpg  loc.03559.005_large.jpg round old age. for you deserve it well and you also deserve well of your country. for you were ever a friend of the Soldier and of your country. 27 years and what history for the U.S has been written in that time. For the years gone by I have often passed through Camden, and had I known it was your home I should surely have stopped to see you, that I might once more have crasped​ you by the hand and looked into that kindly face and fought over our battles (once again) in Washington. I would like very much to hear from you. should you remember me and have the leisure and should I in the future be near loc.03559.006_large.jpg Camden. I will certainly do myself the pleasure of calling on you.

Bleive​ me Yours Sincerly​ MC Reed19 222 So Clark st Chicago Ill
 loc_as.00250_large.jpg  loc_as.00251_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 Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jun 9 | 5pm | 89; Philadelphia, PA | Jun | 9 | 6PM | 1889 | Transit; Buffalo, N.Y. | Jun | 10 | 12M | 1889 | Transit; London | AM | JU 11 | 89 | Canada. [back]
  • 2. Whitman is referring to his poem, "A Voice from Death," which was published in the New York World on June 7, 1889, and, seemingly, in the Camden Courier on the same day. [back]
  • 3. The Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood occurred on May 31, 1889, as the result of the cataclysmic failure of the South Fork Dam; over 2200 people were killed. The poem Whitman mentions at the beginning of this letter dealt with that flood and its aftereffects. [back]
  • 4. Whitman is referring to Bucke's letters of June 4 and June 5, 1889. [back]
  • 5. Whitman had a limited pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass printed in honor of his 70th birthday, on May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. 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]
  • 6. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–82. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the original publisher, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, Complete Prose Works, and the final Leaves of Grass, the so-called deathbed edition. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. Whitman is likely referring to John Burroughs' letter of May 11, 1889 and Milford Reed's letter of June 1, 1889. [back]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. Whitman received a letter from Costelloe on May 10, 1889; he may be referring to this letter. [back]
  • 11. Whitman Sent "My 71st Year" on June 9, 1889 to Richard Watson Gilder of the Century, where it appeared in November. He received $12 (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). On June 11, 1889 he sent "Bravo, Paris Exposition!" to the New York Herald and requested $10. When it was returned he sent it, on June 13, 1889, to the New York World and asked $6 (Commonplace Book). It was finally published in Harper's Weekly; see the letter from Whitman to Bucke of September 25, 1889. [back]
  • 12. 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]
  • 13. Julian Burroughs (1878–1954), the only son of John and Ursula Burroughs, later became a landscape painter, writer, and photographer. [back]
  • 14. Ursula North Burroughs (1836–1917) was John Burroughs's wife. Ursula and John were married on September 12, 1857. The couple maintained a small farm overlooking the Hudson River in West Park, Ulster County. They adopted a son, Julian, at two months of age. It was only later revealed that John himself was the biological father of Julian. [back]
  • 15. 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]
  • 16. This letterhead is on all three pages of stationery. [back]
  • 17. Whitman sent this letter as an enclosure in his June [8]–9 1889, letter to Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke. [back]
  • 18. The annotation, "from an old cavalry soldier," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. [back]
  • 19. Milford C. Reed (1844–1894), also known as Cody M. Reed, was born in New York and moved to Michigan, eventually enlisting in the Company K of the Third Michigan Infantry. He transferred to the U.S. cavalry and served for 19 months from November 1862 until June 1864 in Company F of the Fifth Cavalry. He then served in the First New York Light Artillery in 1864–1865. He wrote to Whitman on May 26, 1865 to ask him for help with a watch he had pawned. For more on Reed, see Steve Soper, Men of the 3rd Michigan Infantry, "Cody M. Reed," [back]
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