Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 30 September 1890

Date: September 30, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07116

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4
page image
image 5

Asylum London
30 Sept. '90

Your letter of 26 & 272 just to hand. A thousand thanks, dear Walt, for the first proof of the "Preface" and a thousand more for the promise of the "Copy"3—I hope it is not destroyed—the fact of it being in a muss does not matter at all—the great thing is to get it—no matter about the state it is in.

The fall in temperature (as the season advances) is bad for you because it tends to check the action of the skin do not forget this—the moral is—attend all the more assiduously to the functions of this organ—keep well clad, above all wear flannel next the skin all over (shirt and drawers) and change these frequently since the flannel absorb the secretions all the better the cleaner it is.

I wish you could have a regular Turkish Bath once a week—it would help you very much. Neither do I see why this should not be arranged—of course there is no T.B. in Camden but there must be several in Phila and I guess you could go there as well as not either in your chair4 or by cab.

An occasional dose of Friedrichshall,5 first thing in the morning, to loossen the bowels moderately could do no horrible harm and would proabably add to your comfort.

So it is to be Horticultural Hall?6 I hope that hall is a big one for as sure as a gun if the Phila friends take advantage of the situation as it stands at present there will be a crowd! And don't you forget it! I wish Horace7 would write me what they propose to do.

They should advertise the address in the American style—for all it is worth. Make the biggest and loudest kind of a Hurrah about it—Chaff the Pharisees and tell them to "come on!" Lord how dear old O'C.8 would be tickled to be in the middle of this thing!

Love to you dear Walt always
R M Bucke

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: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: London | [illegible] | SP 30 | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Oct | 2 | 12 M | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. See Whitman's September 26–[27], 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

3. See Whitman's letter of September 24–25, with which he enclosed a draft of his preface for a collection of short stories by William D. O'Connor entitled Tales, which was published after O'Connor's death. The poet enclosed the proof of the preface with his letter of September 26–[27][back]

4. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

5. Friedrichshall water is a purgative mineral water from springs located near Heidelberg, Germany. It was one of several mineral waters commonly used in the late nineteenth century to treat constipation. (See C. R. C. Tichborne, The Mineral Waters of Europe [London: Baillière, Tindall & Cox, 1883], Chapter 3, "Chemistry of the Purgative Waters.") [back]

6. John H. Johnston (of New York) and Bucke were in the process of planning a lecture event in Whitman's honor, which would take place October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. Robert Ingersoll delivered the lecture: "Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman." See Ingersoll's October 12, 1890 and October 20, 1890, letters to Whitman. [back]

7. 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]

8. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.