Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 18 January 1888

Date: January 18, 1888

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:142–143. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07515

Contributors to digital file: Ryan Furlong, Alex Ashland, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden PM1
Jan 18 '88

Yours of 16th (? or 15th) just rec'd—I am certainly no worse in re the late physical ailments—easier more likely2 —ate my dinner with relish—(cold beef, potatoes & onions)—Eakins3 has been today painting my portrait—it is altogether different from any preceding—plain, materialistic, very strong & powerful ("A poor, old, blind, despised & dying King")4


W W


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Dr R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jan (?) | 6 PM | 88. [back]

2. At nine o'clock on the same evening Whitman was not so optimistic in his Commonplace Book entry: ". . . Cold in the head keeps on—grows worse I think—any thing like easy bodily movement will soon be impossible—it is very nearly so now—trouble in head, kidney botheration pretty bad, joints all gone, locomotion & movement gone—mentality all right yet—& spirits far better than could be expected—appetite fair—sleep, minus to tolerable" (Whitman's Commonplace Book; Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

3. Thomas Eakins (1844–1919) was an American painter. His relationship with Whitman was characterized by deep mutual respect, and he became a close friend of the poet. Eakins resumed work on his portrait of the poet on January 14, 1888 (Whitman's Commonplace Book; Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

4. Whitman's quotation here echoes Percy Bysshe Shelley's sonnet "England 1819," which opens by describing King George III as an "old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King." [back]


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