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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 20 December 1888

Am getting along—more favorably turning than the other—relish'd my mutton-broth & dry biscuit—& am sitting here by the stove—sharp cold & clear to day—Yours of 17th came this mn'g—so the books arrived at last—& you are contented & pleas'd—& the trilogy holds together & fuses, tho' various & paradoxical & rapidly twittering, (probably like Dante's filmy ghosts, rushing by with mere gibberish)—yes it is mainly all autobiographic environ'd with my time & deeply incarnated & tinged with it, & the moral begetting of it (I hope)—The first time soon write whether you get every thing letters & papers—I have written now every day the last five days & sent budgets of papers or magazines—wrote a line to Mrs. O'Connor2 last evn'g—If I hear any thing I will forward you—I am sitting up all day, yesterday & this—I believe I told you the bladder trouble appears to have subsided—

3 p m—I have just eaten some vanilla ice cream—McKay3 has out an ed'n with the annex, Sands at Seventy. I have one—it goes all right—sells the same $2—the postage on the big book4 is 38cts—I put four 10ct stamps—I sent one by p o to-day—(the last page contains "Old Age's Lambent Peaks")—I enclose two letters—one from Logan Smith5—one from Algiers, Africa6—Love to you all & God bless you—

Walt Whitman

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 R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Dec 20 | 8 PM | 88. [back]
  • 2. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–82. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the original publisher, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, Complete Prose Works, and the final Leaves of Grass, the so-called deathbed edition. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," was published by the poet himself—in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 5. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was an essayist and literary critic. He was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith, a minister and writer who befriended Whitman, and he was the brother of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, one of Whitman's most avid followers. For more information on Logan, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Smith wrote a chatty letter to Whitman on November 30, 1888. Irish writer and politician Justin Huntly McCarthy (1859–1936) wrote to Whitman from Algiers on December 3, 1888, and noted the loss of his fianceé, an admirer of Whitman's poetry. In his grief he was reading Whitman's poems alone: "They are helping me, they are strengthening me & I wish to send you these few words of thanks & gratitude for the sake of my dead love & my living grief. Camerado, will you give me your hand across the sea." See also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, December 19, 1888. [back]
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