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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 2–3 February 1890


Am half or rather quarter busy writing little things ("pot boilers") to-day and yesterday—helps while away the time if nothing else—get pay moderately in cash (more than they are worth)—have written the Commonplace and Unknown Names (the masses of common slain soldiers buried after the Secession battles)—and a prose ¶ the voice2—&c &c—

I am here alone by the fire—Mrs. D3 has just been in & taken away the supper tray—Am ab't same as before—a little bit of mine "A Death-Bouquet" in the Press to-day4—I will send you—the big papers here in America wont publish my welcome to Brazil5—but I hear it is printed in Europe—

Feb 3—P M—Still going on same—an artist been here an hour & more sketching my phiz for something6—dull cloudy wet day—a letter f'm Ed: Wilkins7 this mn'g—I enclose8 old screed f'm Kennedy9

God be with you all— Walt Whitman  loc_zs.00156.jpg  loc_zs.00012.jpg  loc_zs.00013.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. | Feb 3 | 8 PM | 90; Philadelphia, PA | FEB | 3 | 9PM | 1890 | Transit; London | PM | Feb 5 | 90 | Canada. [back]
  • 2. On February 3, 1890, he sent "The Commonplace" (poem) and "The Human Voice" (prose) as well as a paragraph "ab't common school teachers" to Munyon's Illustrated World—"$20 due me." "The Commonplace" appeared in that magazine in manuscript facsimile in March, 1891, and "The Human Voice" (later entitled "The Perfect Human Voice") in October, 1890; see William Sloane Kennedy, The Fight of a Book for the World (1926), 271. "Unknown Names" became "A Twilight Song" when it was accepted on February 26, 1890 by Century, which printed it in May and paid Walt Whitman $25 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
  • 3. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. "A Death-Bouquet" became the last section of Good-Bye My Fancy, which was later reprinted in Complete Prose Works (1892). Though Whitman notes its appearance in the Philadelphia Press in this letter, Floyd Stovall claims not to have found it there in his edition of the Prose Works 1892. See The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: Prose Works 1892. Volume II, Collect and Other Prose, ed. Floyd Stovall (New York: New York University Press, 1964), 671n. [back]
  • 5. "A Christmas Greeting," beginning with the line "Welcome, Brazilian brother—thy ample place is ready," eventually appeared in Goodbye My Fancy (1891). See also Whitman's November 19, 1889, letter to Bucke, where the poet informs his correspondent that he has sent out a "welcome sonnet to Brazil." [back]
  • 6. Jacques Reich (1852–1923) sent "proofs of my drawings" on February 12, 1890. This dated drawing is the frontispiece of Volume 5 of The Correspondence of Walt Whitman, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York, NY: New York University Press, 1969). Reich's etching, based upon Thomas Eakins's photograph, appears as the frontispiece to Volume I of The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1902), 10 vols. [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. Whitman is referring to Kennedy's letter of December 27, 1889. [back]
  • 9. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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