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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 5 June 1891


O'Donovan2 and Ralph Moore3 f'm the Cemetery have been here—Edw'd Carpenter4 & three or four friends of L of G & me (women & men) have sent me f'm Eng: a birth-day gift5 of 40 pounds sterling—(I am keeping the banker's order for Horace6 to get it for me, when he comes back)—

Am having a pretty fair day—sent you a letter & papers last night7—live largely on strawberries—have had eight letters to day & seven of them autograph applications—superb sun and temperature—the dear canary bird (& I love him)8—Harrison Morris9 has just been over to see me—Comfortable as I sit here—fine bouquet of roses & honeysuckles—

Walt Whitman  loc_jm.00185.jpg  loc_jm.00186.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: London | AM | JU 8 | 91 | Canada; NY | 6-5-91 | 1130PM; Camden, N.J. | Jun 5 | 8 PM | 91. Whitman wrote this letter on stationery printed with the following notice from the Boston Evening Transcript: "From the Boston Eve'g Transcript, May 7, '91.—The Epictetus saying, as given by Walt Whitman in his own quite utterly dilapidated physical case is, a 'little spark of soul dragging a great lummux of corpse-body clumsily to and fro around.'" [back]
  • 2. William Rudolph O'Donovan (1844–1920) was an American sculptor. He was an associate of American artist Thomas Eakins and accompanied Eakins to Whitman's Camden home and fashioned a large bust of Whitman. Whitman liked O'Donovan but did not care for the bust, which he found "too hunched" and the head "too broad" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, July 15, 1891). [back]
  • 3. Ralph Moore was the superintendent of Harleigh Cemetery, where Whitman had had his marble tomb built. [back]
  • 4. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart . . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature." For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday was celebrated with friends at his home on Mickle Street. He described the celebration in a letter to Dr. John Johnston, of Bolton, England, dated June 1, 1891: "We had our birth anniversary spree last evn'g​ —ab't​ 40 people, choice friends mostly—12 or so women—[Alfred, Lord] Tennyson sent a short and sweet letter over his own sign manual . . . lots of bits of speeches, with gems in them—we had a capital good supper." [back]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. Whitman is referring to the letter he wrote to Bucke on June 4, 1891. [back]
  • 8. When Whitman's canary died, Warry (Whitman's nurse) and Mrs. Davis (Whitman's housekeeper) had it stuffed and placed on the mantle beneath a photograph. According to Dr. Johnston's letter on May 19–20, Warry had apparently suggested that the poet give it to the Bolton group. Bucke duly took it with him when he went to England, and on July 23 the co-founder of the Bolton group of Whitman admirers, James W. Wallace, thanked Whitman for "a very affecting & precious souvenir of you to me." On August 3 he wrote to Mrs. Davis: "I need not to tell you how deeply I prize it. It is a very precious & affecting souvenir of Mr. Whitman—of his lonely room, his thoughts & memories, & the cheer received from the canary's (also caged imprisoned) joyous warblings. It connects itself with memories of my mother's like condition—her only companion often a canary too." See the letter from Wallace to Mary Davis in the Papers of Walt Whitman (MSS 3829), Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, Albert H. Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia. See also Johnston and Wallace's Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917), 60–61n. [back]
  • 9. Harrison Smith Morris (1856–1948) was a businessman and man of letters. Horace Traubel published Morris's translation of French critic Gabriel Sarrazin's essay "Walt Whitman" in the tribute collection In Re Walt Whitman, ed. Horace Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned [Philadelphia: McKay, 1893], 159–194. Morris also wrote a biography of the poet, Walt Whitman: A Brief Biography with Reminiscences (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1929). [back]
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