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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 30–31 August 1889


Another perfect sunny day—plenty warm enough—am feeling middling fair—toast, a rare fried egg, & a cup of tea, for breakfast (demolished all)—the vibrating voices of the loud-crying peddlers in the streets, quite a musical study, some of them have wonderfully fine organs as they peal and drawl them along & it is fine, healthy, strengthening, expanding, blood-circulating & blood-clarifying exercising, calling loudly out in the open air this way, throwing the voices out freely, slowly walking along—I almost envy them, (with their cabbages, fish or what not, & their old vehicles & nags.)

Dick Flynn2 & Ed3 are over in Phila—I sent Ed for the pictures again—I hope y'rs will come right4—Dick is very quiet—we all like him here—he has left & will get there before this5—I sent off the little piece to Harper's6 last evn'g—written in an hour—it is to accompany a fine engraving, "the valley of the shadow of Death"7—I ask $25—(of course it may not suit them—we will see)—

Herbert Gil:8 was here last evn'g. He is very good company— Horace9 was here—the dinner10 book11 will be soon out now—

Saturday—noon—Aug. 31—Suppose Dick has reach'd home by this time—give him my best regards & wishes—rather warmish weather (fine) here—I am middling fairly—have been writing this forenoon— Harper's has accepted the little piece & sent the pay & proof (not to be printed, I fancy, soon)—also just rec'd f'm Century a little eight line poemet proof, "My 71st Year"12 (I believe for Nov.)—I enclose Pearsall Smith's13 good letter rec'd last evn'g14—they have evidently great inward intestinal agitation & unsettledness in Great Britain, (we too here in America, but our belly is so large)—then the unsettledness on the Continent too—as dear Mrs G.15 said we are all "going somewhere"16 indeed—I suppose the dyspeptic Carlyle17 would say "Yes, to hell"—But per contra old black Sojourner Truth18 was always saying "God reigns yet I tell you"—

Walt Whitman  loc_as.00165_large.jpg  loc_as.00166_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 (?) | Sep 1 | 5 PM | [illegible]; Philadelphia | Sep | 1 | 7PM | 1889; Buffalo, N.Y. | Sep | 2 | 1 PM | 1889 | Transit; London | AM | SP [illegible] | 89 | Canada. [back]
  • 2. Whitman mentions Dick Flynn in his October 14, 1880 letter to Thomas Nicholson. Like Nicholson, Flynn was an employee at Bucke's asylum. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Whitman was thinking of printing a select group of photos on uniform cards and arranging them in an envelope or album. At this time he even wrote up instructions to the printer specifying a run of 200 copies with gilt labeling and the title Pictures from life of WW. The project, like many others in Whitman's final years, was never completed, but in 1889 Whitman did put together a small group of six portraits in a ribbon-tied envelope, and that is what he sent to Bucke. [back]
  • 5. Bucke informs Whitman that Flynn is "at home and at work" in his September 3, 1889, letter to the poet. [back]
  • 6. Harper's Monthly Magazine (sometimes Harper's New Monthly Magazine or simply Harper's) was established in 1850 by Henry J. Raymond and Fletcher Harper. The magazine became successful by reprinting British novels before eventually publishing American authors. Six of Whitman's poems were published there between 1874 and 1892. For more information on Whitman's relationship with Harper's, see Susan Belasco's Harper's Monthly Magazine. [back]
  • 7. This poem, Death's Valley, was published in the April 1892 issue of Harper's Monthly Magazine. [back]
  • 8. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]
  • 11. 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]
  • 12. Whitman's poem "My 71st Year" was published in the November 1889 issue of Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. [back]
  • 13. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was an essayist and literary critic. He was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith, a minister and writer who befriended Whitman, and he was the brother of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, one of Whitman's most avid followers. For more information on Logan, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 14. Smith had written to Whitman on August 13 1889. It is uncertain whether Whitman enclosed this letter or a subsequent letter from Smith. [back]
  • 15. Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885) was the author of one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, titled "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman (From Late Letters by an English Lady to W. M. Rossetti)," The Radical 7 (May 1870), 345–59. Gilchrist's long correspondence with Whitman indicates that she had fallen in love with the poet after reading his work; when the pair met in 1876 when she moved to Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. For more information on their relationship, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows (1828–1885)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 16. "Going Somewhere" is also the title of a poem that Whitman wrote from fragments of Anne Gilchrest's letters, in honor of her death. [back]
  • 17. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985). [back]
  • 18. Sojourner Truth (1797?–1883) was born into slavery sometime around 1797 as Isabelle. She traveled the Northeast debating her thoughts on God before, in 1850, setting out to testify against slavery and to sell her book, Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. She served as a delegate from Massachusetts to the first national Woman's Rights Convention, and would continue to travel the Northeast and Midwest to speak and fight for the rights of women and African Americans for the duration of her life (see Jacqueline Bernard, Journey Toward Freedom: The Story of Sojourner Truth. [New York: The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 1990]). [back]
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