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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 13 July 1889


Cloudy (rainy last night)—Still hot—Still eat & sleep fairly— take the tonic—y'r letter ab't Mrs O'C2 rec'd—doubt whether it w'd suit her—such a plan—am not moved to it favorably3—Most things are bad enough with me, but I am blessed thankful they are no worse & that I get along as well as I do—Am getting along better than you suppose—rec'd a letter I enclose it from John Burroughs.4 His address for twelve days will be Hobart N Y. The printing of Horace's5 little book6 is progressing—I am writing nothing—strech'd out on the bed half the time fanning away the flies &c—not down ill but not far from that—some blackberries & a rare egg for my breakfast—

Sunset—Have had my supper & relish'd it—send this hence Camden (to Phila) 8 P M July 13—see & itemize to me, when it reaches you—over an hour's rain latter afternoon—I am feeling fairly—sweating—Well we must have a turn in the temperature presently—perhaps to-night

Best regards & love to Mrs. B7 and all— Walt Whitman
 loc.01170.001_large.jpg Dear Walt,

I write you briefly this morning before starting on my 2 week vacation to Delaware Co. I rec'd the pocket book copy8 of L.G. & prize it very highly. It is unique. I was very sorry I could not see you on the day you was 70 years old. At that time I was having one of my streaks of insomnia, &  loc.01170.002_large.jpg was very wretched for two or three weeks. It has worn off & I am feeling much better.

The summer has been a very busy one with me. The young grape vines grow so fast that it keeps me going to tie them up to the stakes. I go about all day with two balls of twine at my side, training the young vines in the way they should go, & tying them in that way.

I do hope you keep about. I wish some good masculine angel would come & lift you out of Camden, bag & baggage & set you down here, or loc.01170.003_large.jpg or by the sea, or in the mountains A change of air now would greatly add to the length of your days. You ought to know this, & I will not bore you with it. I hear from Horace now & then, always gladly. I have not seen O'Connor's9 reviews of Donnelly's10 Reviewers.11 If you have a copy send it to me at Hobart N.Y. & I will return it.

With much love John Burroughs  loc.01170.004_large.jpg
 loc_as.00065_large.jpg  loc_as.00066_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, NJ | Jul 13 | 8PM | 89; NY | 7-014-89 | 11 AM | 9; London | A[illegible] | JY | 15 | 89 | Canada. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. Bucke's letter is not extant, but Whitman summarized its contents for Traubel: "Doctor's last letter was written in a terrible strain: he proposes to me that, Mrs. O'Connor having no place her own now—nothing to do—that we somehow set up a bargain—that she keep house for me—that we go into alliance, get spliced" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, July 13, 1889). Bucke's reasoning was not an illogical deduction from Mrs. O'Connor's letter of July 3, 1889. [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831–1901) was a politician and writer, well known for his notions of Atlantis as an antediluvian civilization and for his belief that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon, an idea he argued in his book The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, published in 1888. [back]
  • 11. In his pamphlet Mr. Donnelly's Reviewers (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1889), O'Connor attempted to defend Ignatius Donnelly's Baconian theories, as found in The Great Crytogram (1887). [back]
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