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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 26 August 1890


Mainly the same subject continued—the printed slip is a horrible dislocation & hate manufactured out by J M Scovel2 of a talk the preceding evn'g when he visited me (his tendency is to vilify me mentally sensibly & bodily he can't help it)3—the other bit is W S K's4 letter just rec'd5—fine & a little warm to–day—has been almost cool here four days—made my breakfast on bread & canteloupe—still have my supper at 4½—no dinner—fair excretion business—out in wheel ch'r6 last evn'g—my grip has call'd in upon me again the last two or three days (probably the great change in the weather & stoppage of sweating)—not yet so bad as formerly—bladder botheration—a sister7 of one of my war soldiers call'd yesterday—a nice smart old maid—my soldier still lives & flourishes—in California—Anson Ryder8—I get word or calls or jogs or mementos f'm them (the war soldiers) occasionally—one sends a stout cane (I use it daily)—one a $5 gold piece

Walt Whitman

Later—Just rec'd word f'm England,— Dr Johnston9 all right & well.10

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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. | Aug 2(?) | 6 PM | 90, Philadelphia. P.A. | AUG | 26 | 7 PM | 1890 | Transit, London | PM | AU 27 | 90 | Canada, Buffalo, N.Y. | AUG | 27 | 11AM | 1890 | Transit. [back]
  • 2. James Matlack Scovel (1833–1904) began to practice law in Camden in 1856. During the Civil War, he was in the New Jersey legislature and became a colonel in 1863. He campaigned actively for Horace Greeley in 1872, and was a special agent for the U.S. Treasury during Chester Arthur's administration. In the 1870s, Whitman frequently went to Scovel's home for Sunday breakfast (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). For a description of these breakfasts, see Walt Whitman's Diary in Canada, ed. William Sloane Kennedy (Boston: Small, Maynard, 1904), 59–60. For Scovel, see George R. Prowell's The History of Camden County, New Jersey (Philadelphia: L. J. Richards, 1886). [back]
  • 3. James M. Scovel's "A Talk with Whitman" appeared in the August 25, 1890, issue of the Philadelphia Times. Bucke shared Whitman's contempt in his letter of August 28. [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. See William Sloane Kennedy's August 23 letter to Whitman. [back]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 8. Anson Ryder, Jr., a soldier, had apparently left Armory Square Hospital in 1865 and returned to his family at Cedar Lake, New York, accompanied by another injured soldier named Wood (probably Calvin B. Wood; see Notes and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier [New York: New York University Press, 1961–1984], 6:673). For other correspondence between Ryder and Walt Whitman, see Ryder's August 9, 1865, letter to Whitman. Excerpts from five of Whitman's letters to an unidentified ex-soldier (later identified as Anson Ryder, Jr.) were printed by Florence Hardiman Miller in the Overland Monthly under the title "Some Unpublished Letters of Walt Whitman's. Written to a Soldier Boy" in 1904. She was not able to date most of the letters or to offer any initial conjectures about the identity of the recipient. However, Edwin Haviland Miller later identified the soldier as Ryder. Florence Miller seems to imply that the correspondence continued into the early 1870s. [back]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. Whitman wrote this postscript such that it appears upside down on the back of the envelope. [back]
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