Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 16 December 1890

Date: December 16, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07133

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Marie Ernster, Stephanie Blalock, and Amanda J. Axley

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Insane Asylum
London Ontario
16 Dec 1890

I have yours of 13th1 I do not like that abdominal pain continuing so long and I do not like those darting pains you mention. I have written to Horace2 about it and have told him to arrange to have some good doctor from Phila come over and see what you need. I hope you will not make any difficulty about this reasonable step. If the Dr does you no good he certainly will do you no harm. I am much disappointed at what you tell me about the new glasses and I think you would be wrong to lay them aside as you seem to be doing—if they are not right they should be altered and if they are right they should be worn.3 Thomas4 & Fox5 gave me the glasses I have on at present—for a week or two they gave me a great annoyance, even distress, but I stuck to them as Thomas told me and they have been a real comfort to me since.

I have just read "Old Poets"6 again for the third or fourth time—it grows upon me somehow—I like it better—you have (of course) said it all before (and more than once) but there is no harm in saying it again in slightly varied language—the language of the article is certainly admirable and what it says and suggests is important enough to hear almost any amount of repetition

With best love
Your friend
RM 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. See Whitman's December 12–13, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

2. 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]

3. See Whitman's letters of November 13, 1890 and November 18, 1890[back]

4. Dr. Thomas was an oculist who had visited the poet on October 25, 1890; he examined Whitman and was to assist the poet in obtaining "suitable glasses." See Whitman's letter to Bucke of October 26, 1890[back]

5. Edward B. Fox was an optician with an office on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. He invented and patented several types of eyeglasses in the late 1880s and early 1890s (see The Jeweler's Circular and Horological Review [November 28, 1894], 68). [back]

6. On October 3, 1890, Whitman accepted the invitation to write for The North American Review. He sent them "Old Poets," the first of a two-part contribution, on October 9, 1890[back]


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