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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 18–19 July 1890


Pleasant and sufficiently cool & breezy to–day, (after some exhaustingly hot weather lately, but I am here ab't the same after it all)—Dr John Johnston2 f'm Bolton England, has been here three or four days, & I have seen quite a good deal of him & like him well—I believe he intents to go to Ontario & call upon you—I am sure you will be interested in him—he is a great reader &c of L of G—he yesterday went to Brooklyn, to visit Andrew3 and Tom Rome4 & intends going down to Huntington L I to visit Herbert Gilchrist5—Sh'd suppose he might come y'r way ab't a week or thereab't fr'm now—

J A Symonds6 has sent me his (formidable) finely printed "Essays Speculative & Suggestive," two Vols. duodecimo, Chapman & Hall, London—one essay being devoted to me, "Democratic Art, with special reference to Walt Whitman"—Have run it over & a few other pages—I guess there is meat in the vols. but I doubt whether he has gripp'd "democratic art" by the nuts, or L of G. either7—then the pretty magazine here "Poet Lore" for July 15, (Lippincott, Phila:) has an article "Walt Whitman's View of Shakspere," signed Jonathan Trumbull, very friendly respectful & complimentary to me—but dont get to marrows hardly at all8

Saturday P M—Fine day—sunny—cool enough—Am feeling fairly—this enclosed slip is cut f'm Horace's9 little paper10—y'r letters rec'd—am sitting here the same in cane chair in my Mickle Street den—the big whistle has sounded 1 o'clock—my good nurse Warry11 has just bro't me some nice ice cream, wh' I have duly eaten—A NY man has offered me $100 for a novel (shortish story, 5000 words)—shall probably not try12

Love to Mrs: B13 and the childer— Walt Whitman  loc_zs.00349.jpg  loc_zs.00066.jpg  loc_zs.00067.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. | Jul 19 | 6 PM | 90; Buffalo N. Y. | Jul | 20 | 10 AM| 1890 | Transit; London | AM | JY 21 | [illegible]O | Canada; Philadelphia, PA | Jul | 19 | 7 PM | 1890 | Transit. [back]
  • 2. Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) of Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, was a physician, photographer, and avid cyclist. Johnston was trained in Edinburgh and served as a hospital surgeon in West Bromwich for two years before moving to Bolton, England, in 1876. Johnston worked as a general practitioner in Bolton and as an instructor of ambulance classes for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways. He served at Whalley Military Hospital during World War I and became Medical Superintendent of Townley's Hospital in 1917 (John Anson, "Bolton's Illustrious Doctor Johnston—a man of many talents," Bolton News [March 28, 2021]; Paul Salveson, Moorlands, Memories, and Reflections: A Centenary Celebration of Allen Clarke's Moorlands and Memories [Lancashire Loominary, 2020]). Johnston, along with the architect James W. Wallace, founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Johnston, see Larry D. Griffin, "Johnston, Dr. John (1852–1927)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Andrew Rome, perhaps with the assistance of his brother Tom, printed Whitman's first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855) in a small shop at the intersection of Fulton and Cranberry in Brooklyn. It was likely the first book the firm ever printed. [back]
  • 4. Andrew Rome's wife was the cousin of Dr. John Johnston's wife (John Johnston and James W. Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends [1918], 63). For an account of Johnston's sightseeing, see Johnston and Wallace, 63–74. On July 12 Rome wrote about plans to visit the poet. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. Whitman commented on Symonds' chapter from Essays Speculative and Suggestive (London: Chapman and Hall, 1890), 237–268, in "An Old Man's Rejoinder," which appeared in The Critic 17 (August 16, 1890), 85–86. Whitman's "Rejoinder" was also reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (Prose Works 1892, Volume 2: Collect and Other Prose, ed. Floyd Stovall [New York: New York University Press, 1964], 655–658). In his August 20–22 letter, Bucke remarked: "The whole article is 'flat, stale and unprofitable'—a saw dust chewing business—dealing with the hull, the shell, the superfices, never for one line, one flash of insight penetrating to the heart of the business." On August 24, Whitman observed: "you are a little more severe on Symonds than I sh'd be." [back]
  • 8. Whitman is referring to Jonathan Trumbull's article in Poet-lore, 2 (1890), 368–371. Whitman's reply, "Shakspere for America," appeared in Poet-lore 2 (October 1890), 492–493, and was reprinted in The Critic on September 27. [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. Horace Traubel founded The Conservator in March 1890, and he remained its editor and publisher until his death in 1919. Traubel conceived of The Conservator as a liberal periodical influenced by Whitman's poetic and political ethos. A fair portion of its contents were devoted to Whitman appreciation and the conservation of the poet's literary and personal reputation. [back]
  • 11. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]
  • 12. Franklin File, an employee of a newspaper syndicate including the Boston Herald and the Philadelphia Press, made the proposal on July 16. According to the poet's Commonplace Book, he sent "A Death-Bouquet" to File of the New York Sun; he received $10 for it. Edwin haviland Miller says that "A Death-Bouquet" appeared in the Philadelphia Press on February 2. Whitman mentions the publication in his February 2–3, 1890, letter to Bucke. However, Floyd Stovall claims not to have found it there in his edition of the Prose Works 1892. "A Death-Bouquet" became the last section of Good-Bye My Fancy, which was later reprinted in Complete Prose Works (1892). [back]
  • 13. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]
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