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Richard Maurice Bucke and Walt Whitman HAROLD JAFFE The first direct communication between Dr. R. M. Bucke and Walt Whitman occurred on December 19, 1870, when Bucke wrote a short letter to the poet from Sarnia, Ontario: Dear Sir: Will you please send to the enclosed address, two copies of Leaves of Grass, one copy of Passage to India and one copy of Democratic Vistas. Enclosed you will find $7.25 - $6.75 for the books and fifty cents for postage. I do not know exactly what this last item will be but I fancy fifty cents will be enough to pay for it. I am an old reader of your works, and a very great admirer of them. About two years ago I borrowed a copy of the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass and I have a great ambition to own a copy of this edition myself; would it be possible to get one? Before getting that the only thing I had ever seen of yours was Rosetti's selection. Lateiy I have got a copy of the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass, and I have compared the Walt Whitman in that with the same poem in the 1855 edition, and I must say that I like the earlier edition best. I have an idea that I shall be in Washington in the course of 1871; if I am it would give me much pleasure to see you, if you would not object. I am afraid, however, that, like other celebrities, you have more people call upon you than you care about seeing; in that case I should not wish to annoy you. At all events believe me Faithfully Yours, R. M. Bucke.1 Although Whitman did not respond to the letter, he retained it, as was his habit, and many years later commented on it to Horace Traube!: "This was Bucke' s first appearance on the scene. You will notice, he comes in quite frankly, without flattering adjectives, yet also without impudence. To Bucke.,to me, this document is historic." 2 There was no further communication between the two men until the summer of 1877, when Bucke wrote to Whitman that he would have occasion within the next few months to visit Philadelphia, that he was very anxious to meet with the poet and proposed to call on him. Again he received no response: 'However, I wished to see, and meant to see, the poet.,so - without having heard from him - one day [October 17, 1877] about noon I crossed the Delaware to make my experimental call."3 The old poet - he was fifty-eight but appeared much older - visibly lame from his paralytic stroke, joined Bucke in the living-room. 4 The doctor THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. II, NO, 1, SPRING 1.971 was fond of describing his first encounter with Whitman, and he never failed to stress the (for him) apocalyptic nature of the meeting: I remember well how, like so many others I was struck, almost amazed, by the beauty and majesty of his person and the gracious air of purity that surrounded and permeated him. We did not talk much nor do I remember anything that was said, but it would be impossible for me to fully convey by words or in any way to describe the influence upon me of that short and simple interview. . . . A sort of spiritual intoxication set in which did not reach its culmination for several weeks, and which, after continuing for some months, very gradually, in the course of the next few years, faded out. While this state of exaltation remained at its height the mental image of the man Walt Whitman underwent within me a sort of glorification (or else a veil was withdrawn and I saw him as he was and is), insomuch that it became impossible for me ... to believe that ,,Vhitman was a mere man. It seemed to me at that time certain that he was either actually a god or in some sense clearly and entirely preterhuman .... The hour spent that day with the poet was the turning point of my life. The upshot of it was the...


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