Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, [29]–30 June [1889]


Hot unpleasant weather—under a bad spell (caving in feeling generally)—this is the third day—Still I get out in the wheel chair2—was out to the river at sunset yesterday an hour—sleep & eat fairly yet— (made my breakfast of a dish of raspberries and Graham bread)—pulse fair—we have a good letter from Sarrazin3 wh' you will see in the pamphlet4 —(did I mention Rossetti's5?)— Horace6 delays a little, to get these slow letters7 wh' probably is all right—even better—(tho' I wanted the pamphlet to be out at once)—Nothing very new or significant—a little German review in paper f'm Berlin8—now sent by me to Mr Traubel9 to English it —will send it to you soon—Horace wishes me to say he will attend to having the little L of G10 bound as you desired, & send—Sylvester Baxter11 here yesterday—talk'd political reform & socialism strong—is going down to Kentucky (for the Boston Herald)—ask'd me as he left what word or message I had to give him—I said (a la Abraham Lincoln) there was a queer old Long Islander in my boyhood who was always saying "hold your horses"—(I like S B well—he is a good fellow, & a good friend.)12

Sunday 30th 10—11 a m—Rather pleasanter, cloudy, warm yet—bad spell continued—have had my breakfast, a rare egg, some Graham bread and cocoa & am sitting here alone—been looking over the Sunday paper—rather quiet day—T B Harned13 stays the coming week up in the mountain country—have myself no great desire to go country ward for a few weeks—

Love to you all— Walt Whitman  loc_as.00061_large.jpg  loc_as.00062_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 30 | 5pm | 89; London | AM | JY | 2 | 89 | Canada. [back]
  • 2. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889. [back]
  • 3. 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. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. 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). [back]
  • 4. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in Camden, on May 31, 1889, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]
  • 5. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. Letters from Sarrazin and Rossetti appear in Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (Philadelphia, PA: David McKay, 1889), 49–50. [back]
  • 8. On June 16, 1889, German writer and translator Edward Bertz (1853–1931), also spelled "Eduard," sent Whitman an article that he had published in the Deutsche Presse of June 2, 1889 in honor of Whitman's seventieth birthday. See Amelia von Ende, "Whitman and the Germans of Today," The Conservator No. 4 [June 1907], 55–57. See also, Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, June 28, 1889. On July 2, 1889, Whitman sent Bertz Complete Poems & Prose, and on July 7 a copy of Richard Maurice Bucke's book (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). Bertz thanked the poet on July 20–22; he stated that he preferred Ferdinand Freiligrath's translations to those of T. W. Rolleston and Karl Knortz, and called attention to his own book The French Prisoners (1884), "the story of a friendship between a German boy and a young French soldier," with a chapter motto from Leaves of Grass. In 1905 Bertz published Walt Whitman; ein Charakterbild. [back]
  • 9. [back]
  • 10. Whitman had a special pocket-book edition printed in honor of his 70th birthday, 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]
  • 11. Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 12. See Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, June 27, 1889. [back]
  • 13. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), 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). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]
Back to top