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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 3 July 1889

Easier slightly—continue to eat & sleep fairly—weather continues rainy warm unhealthy (now 4th day)—fair bowel action every 2d or 3d day—havn't taken any medicine in a long time—(no doctors here 3 or 4 months)—sent the big b'k2 to my late German friendly critic, Edw'd Bertz, Potsdam3—As I conclude the sun shines out—Wrote yesterday to Mrs. O'C[onnor]4 & sent "Unity"5

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 Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jul 3 | 8 pm | 89. [back]
  • 2. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," 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 for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, 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]
  • 3. On June 16, 1889 Eduard Bertz (1853–1931) sent Whitman an article he had published in the Deutsche Presse of June 2 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, June 28, 1889). On July 2 Whitman sent Bertz Complete Poems & Prose, and on July 7 a copy of 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 Freiligrath's translations to those of Rolleston and 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, which candidly argued that Whitman was a (sexually inactive) homosexual; the work generated one of the earliest public debates about Whitman's sexuality. For more information on Bertz, see Grünzweig, Walter, "Bertz, Eduard (1853–1931)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. It is unclear what issue of Unity Whitman sent; Horace Traubel published an account of Whitman's seventieth birthday dinner in Unity, but it did not appear until August 1890. [back]
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