Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 17 April 1889

Date: April 17, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07602

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:322. 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, Alex Ashland, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock

April 17 '891

Y'rs came—welcome—I send some papers—the "sayings" of the Japanee2 make Horace3 frantic angry—they are invented or distorted most horribly—I take it all phlegmatically—Dark, heavy, raw day, & my feelings ab't same.

Walt Whitman

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 postal card is addressed: Dr R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario Canada. It is postmarked: Camden (?) | 17 Apr | (?) PM. [back]

2. Whitman is referring to an article by C. Sadakichi Hartmann (1867–1944), "Walt Whitman. Notes of a Conversation with the Good Gray Poet by a German Poet and Traveller." It appeared in the New York Herald on April 14, 1889. For Whitman's reactions, see his April 17, 1889, letter to Bucke and his May 4, 1889, letter to William Sloane Kennedy. See also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, April 16, 1889, and Wednesday, April 17, 1889. Bucke prepared a correction for the Herald which was not printed (Traubel, Monday, May 6, 1889). [back]

3. 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]


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