Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 3 September 1888

Date: September 3, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07661

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 Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Related item: Whitman wrote this letter to Bucke on the back of the August 21, 1888, letter he had received from Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe. See loc.05014.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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Monday Afternoon
Sept: 3 '881

All goes fairly with me. Yesterday & to-day I am perceptibly better—Cooler & signs of September—Still adhere to my 2d story room & the big chair—Have just had a call from the Phila. man of the N. Y. Herald2 who asks something of Elias Hicks3 (& the Nov: B4)—for the paper—wh' I promise to give—will send to-morrow. Your letters come & are welcomed. No news yet of Herbert Gilchrist5 but I expect him any moment—I have somewhere a printed slip of "Old Age's Lambent Peaks"6 & will yet send it—but I cannot lay my hand on it this moment—a cloudy rather pleasant day, almost cool—quiet—I reiterate the offer of my mare & phaeton7

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 letter is addressed: Dr R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Sep 3 | 8 PM | 88. [back]

2. The Philadelphia representative of the Herald was C. H. Browning (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, August 16, 1888). See Whitman's September 6, 1888, letter to the editor of the New York Herald[back]

3. Elias Hicks (1748–1830) was a Quaker from Long Island whose controversial teachings led to a split in the Religious Society of Friends in 1827, a division that was not resolved until 1955. Hicks had been a friend of Whitman's father and grandfather, and Whitman himself was a supporter and proponent of Hicks's teachings, writing about him in Specimen Days (see "Reminiscence of Elias Hicks") and November Boughs (see "Elias Hicks, Notes (such as they are)"). For more on Hicks and his influence on Whitman, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 37–39. [back]

4. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Whitman's poem "Old Age's Lambent Peaks" appeared in the September 1888 issue of The Century Magazine[back]

7. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of December 2, 1888[back]


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