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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 9 November 1889


Y'rs rec'd2—Ab't same as usual with me—Dark & glum & rainy to-day—have been scribbling a memorandum of what I saw (ab't 1831) of Aaron Burr,3 New York—(I wrote one three y'rs ago, but seem to have lost it the MS)4—he was one of our most important & curious 1776–1836 characters—died in the last mention'd year—

1 p m Have had a good kneading massage & back rubbing &c—very helpful—

F B Sanborn5 has sent a letter to Horace,6 wh' H will some day tell you more fully ab't, but S don't want it published (? at present)—is ab't Edw'd Emersons sneaking lying note anent of me in his late b'k ab't R W E78 —B9 is cool & collected & conservative but I consider him a real honest permanent friend of self & L of G—

3 1/2 P M—Still glum & rainy, pouring down hard now & most dark— Of course have been in all day occupying the big arm chair—dull enough, & yet, better perhaps than you might suppose (this vigorous pummeling treatment is a sort of salvation)—have been looking (2d time) again at the Hawthorne in Fields's10 "Yesterdays"—H seems to have been quite a good deal of what we Unionists & Anti-Slaveryites call'd a copperhead—yet somehow we take to such characters—not pure silver or gold—quite mixed, even questionable—like Burns,11 Mary Stuart,12 Aaron Burr, (perhaps Shakespeare)—Lord bless you—

Walt Whitman  loc_as.00138_large.jpg  loc_as.00139_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. | Nov 9 | 8 PM | 89; London | AM | NO 11 | 89 | Canada. [back]
  • 2. Whitman is referring to Bucke's letter of November 8, 1889. [back]
  • 3. Aaron Burr (1756–1836) was the third elected vice president of the United States, serving under Jefferson. As Whitman states, he had quite a curious life, that included being the only recorded sitting vice president to shoot and kill someone while in office as well as being arrested on charges of treason in a conspiracy to capitalize on a possible war in Spain (Mark O. Hatfield, with the Senate Historical Office, "Aaron Burr, 3rd Vice President [1801–1805]." Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789–1993, [Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997], 31–44). [back]
  • 4. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, November 8, 1889 and Saturday, November 9, 1889. [back]
  • 5. Franklin B. Sanborn (1831–1917) was an abolitionist and a friend of John Brown. In 1860, when he was tried in Boston because of his refusal to testify before a committee of the U.S. Senate, Whitman was in the courtroom (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: Macmillan, 1955], 242). He reviewed Drum-Taps in the Boston Commonwealth on February 24, 1866. He was editor of the Springfield Republican from 1868 to 1872, and was the author of books dealing with his friends Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. "A Visit to the Good Gray Poet" appeared without Sanborn's name in the Springfield Republican on April 19, 1876. For more on Sanborn, see Linda K. Walker, "Sanborn, Franklin Benjamin (Frank) (1831–1917)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was an American poet and essayist who began the Transcendentalist movement with his 1836 essay Nature. For more on Emerson, see Jerome Loving, "Emerson, Ralph Waldo [1809–1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. Whitman is referring to Edward Emerson's Emerson in Concord: A Memoir (1889). Emerson refers to Whitman in a note (228n.; reprinted in Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden), Saturday, May 11, 1889. See also the entry for Monday, May 13, 1889. [back]
  • 9. Whitman means Franklin B. Sanborn. [back]
  • 10. James Thomas Fields (1817–1881), who had succeeded James Russell Lowell as editor of the Atlantic Monthly in 1861 and held the position until 1871. He published his reminiscences of his friendships with famous writers, including Nathaniel Harthorne, in his 1871 Yesterdays with Authors. [back]
  • 11. Robert Burns (1759–1796) is remembered best as the national bard of Scotland. His poetry and use of the Scots dialect made him the first poet in the English-speaking world to be treated as a national celebrity in his lifetime, and he is often viewed as the first of the English-speaking Romantic poets. His political and religious views were seen as controversial, and after his death he became a source of inspiration for liberalism and socialism (Robert Crawford, The Bard: Robert Burns, A Biography [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009]). [back]
  • 12. Mary Stuart (1542–1587), also known as Mary, Queen of Scots and Mary I of Scotland, ruled over Scotland from 1542–1567 when she was imprisoned and forced to abdicate the throne to her one-year-old son. When she escaped to England to seek refuge, her Catholicism and potential claim to the English throne were viewed as threatening and caused her to be confined in various castles by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. After eighteen and a half years of confinement she was found guilty of involvement in a plot to assassinate the Queen and was executed (John Guy, Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart [New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004]). [back]
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