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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 29 August 1889


Am writing this just before sunset—feeling pretty fair—been requested by Alden2 the editor to write a piece for Harper's Monthly, & shall send it off this evn'g—If printed I shall either send it you or inform you—Dick Flynn3 came last evn'g, & he & Ed:4 are off to-day in Phila—I believe Dick goes hence Saturday—shall probably send the picture by him —just had to pay nearly $40 for taxes to the banditti who govern our city here 5—word from Burroughs6 yesterday—he is well—back in West Park7

Walt Whitman  loc_as.00269_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. | Aug 29 | 8 PM | 89. [back]
  • 2. Henry Mills Alden (1836–1919) was managing editor of Harper's Weekly from 1863 to 1869 and editor of Harper's Monthly Magazine from 1869 until his death. [back]
  • 3. Whitman mentions Dick Flynn in his October 14, 1880, letter to Thomas Nicholson. Like Nicholson, Flynn was an employee at Bucke's asylum, doing odd jobs. Whitman came to know him during his visit to the asylum in 1880 and admired Flynn's gardening. Flynn took a tour of the U.S. in 1889 and visted Whitman Camden home, where he carried the Gutekunst photographic portrait of Whitman back to Dr. Bucke in London Ontario. Whitman and Bucke both greatly admired this photographic portrait. [back]
  • 4. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]
  • 5. Whitman paid a city tax of $25.28 on August 24 and a water tax bill for $8.40 on August 28. Of the former he wrote: "In Italy & Greece they have a dis-illegal banditti— here we have a regular legal one, & numerous & remorseless" (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). [back]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. Whitman received a letter from Burroughs on August 27, 1889. [back]
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