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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 15 October 1890


All goes propitously—I shall probably say a very short say at the Ing:2 meeting Tuesday evn'g3—but y'r latest indicate that you will be here y'rself.4—Probably (I guess) there will be a fair-full house—no thanks to papers either. (O how fearful they are of putting in a word looks like for Ingersoll)5—but there is a great subterranean feeling for us—I am getting along so–so—grip yet—bladder bother—&c: &c—fime sunny day—rather cool I have a fire—no word ab't my "Old Poets"6 piece yet—Mrs: Johnston7 (NY) is to be here Saturday—have sold two books—a friend (after using it apparently some time—it is well worn) sends me a little book ab't Browning8 fr'm England—&the duty the PO here makes me pay is 20 cts—so much for the banditte combine tariff—(the little 2nd hand b'k w'd likely be b't here at a stand for 10 cts) y'r letters rec'd—am sitting in the big chair with wolf skin on back in my old den as usual—God bless you all

Walt Whitman  loc_zs.00166.jpg  loc_zs.00167.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,[illegible] | OCT 13 | 8 PM | 90, Philadelphia, PA. | OCT | 15 | 9PM | 1890 | TRANSIT; London | PM | OC [illegible] | Canada. [back]
  • 2. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]
  • 3. Whitman is referring to the lecture in his honor, which would take place on October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. The New York jeweler John H. Johnston and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke planned the event, and the orator and agnostic Robert Ingersoll delivered the lecture: "Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman." See Ingersoll's October 12 and October 20 letters to Whitman. [back]
  • 4. See Bucke's letter of October 12, 1890. [back]
  • 5. The hostility in Philadelphia to the orator and agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll's (1833–1899) lecture in honor of Whitman aroused the wrath of the Whitmanites, although they secretly delighted in the opportunity to battle with the "enemy." Bucke, who had wanted a New York lecture, sputtered on September 28, "Now I am in favor of Phila for the sake of the dear Pharisees there. If I were down East and assisting to run the thing I would give them (at least try to give them) a dose that they would remember and that would do them good." He returned to the subject on September 30: "Chaff the Pharisees and tell them to 'come on!' Lord how dear old [William] O'C[onnor] would be tickled to be in the middle of the thing!" [back]
  • 6. Whitman sent "Old Poets" to the North American Review on October 9. He returned proof on October 18 and was paid $75 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). The article appeared in the November 1890 issue. [back]
  • 7. Alma Calder Johnston (1843–1917) was an author and the founder of a charity called the Little Mothers' Aid Society. The charity funded trips to Pelham Bay Park on Hunter's Island for young girls who served as the primary caregivers for their siblings while their parents worked. Johnston wrote for the New York Tribune and Harper's Weekly ("[Obituary for Alma Calder Johnston]," in "New York Notes," The Jewelers' Circular-Weekly [May 9, 1917], 85). Her "Personal Memories of Walt Whitman" was published in The Bookman 46 (December 1917), 404–413. She was the second wife of the jeweler John H. Johnston, and her family owned a home and property in Equinunk, Pennsylvania. For more on the Johnstons, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder" (Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. The English poet Robert Browning (1812–1889), known for his dramatic monologues, including "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess," was also the husband of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861). [back]
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