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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 4 September 1889


Fine weather—nothing very different or new—am feeling passably comfortable—rec'd y'rs2 of Dick Flynn's3 safe return & of y'r satisfaction with the picture!4 Did it come in good order? We too all like it well—T B5 and Frank6 and H Traubel7 and Herbert G8 all here last evn'g—Mr & Mrs Ingram9 this forenoon—

I am sitting as usual in the big chair in second story room as I write—was out in the wheel chair10 last evn'g—

Walt Whitman  loc_as.00041_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. | Sep 4 | 8 PM | 89. [back]
  • 2. Whitman is referring to Bucke's letter of September 3, 1889. [back]
  • 3. Richard "Dick" Flynn was a longtime assistant to Bucke at the London asylum, doing odd jobs. Whitman met Flynn and admired his gardening work when he visited Bucke in 1880; he mentions Flynn in his October 14, 1880, letter to Thomas Nicholson. Traubel also records that Whitman was anticipating a visit from Flynn in Camden shortly before Bucke wrote this letter (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, August 27, 1889). Flynn, while on a tour of the U.S., apparently stopped by Whitman's Mickle Street home and carried a copy of the Gutekunst photograph of 1889 back to London with him. Whitman had worried that the photo would get damaged in the mail. Whitman and Bucke both greatly admired this photographic portrait. [back]
  • 4. See the frontispiece of the fifth volume of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964), as well as the entries for Tuesday, August 27, 1889 and Friday, August 30, 1889. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. Francis (Frank) Parkerson Harned (1849–1934) was Tom Harned's brother; he was a chemist and the founder of the Penn Chemical Works. [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 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. William Ingram, a Quaker, kept a tea store—William Ingram and Son Tea Dealers—in Philadelphia. Of Ingram, Whitman observed to Horace Traubel: "He is a man of the Thomas Paine stripe—full of benevolent impulses, of radicalism, of the desire to alleviate the sufferings of the world—especially the sufferings of prisoners in jails, who are his protégés" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, May 20, 1888). Ingram and his wife visited the physician Richard Maurice Bucke and his family in Canada in 1890. [back]
  • 10. 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]
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