Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 25 September 1889

Date: September 25, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07704

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.

Contributors to digital file: Braden Krien, Ryan Furlong, Breanna Himschoot, Ashlyn Stewart, and Stephanie Blalock

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early P M Sept: 25 '891

Dark & rainy weather continued—mild cold—moderate bowel action—still eat mutton & rice broth, Graham bread, honey & tea. Am sitting here in the 2d story room, alone, trying to while away the day—But this is all the old, old story—Am feeling fairly to-day but dull, dull—I told you that Harper's Monthly (H M Alden2 editor) had accepted & paid for "Death's Valley,"3 a little poemet to illustrate an engraving f'm a picture "the shadow of the Valley of Death" by the N Y painter Ennis (or Inness)4—the Harpers Weekly (John Foord editor) has accepted & paid for "Bravo! Paris Exposition!"5

Ed6 is making up the bed as I write—I have been anxious ab't the French elections—glad republicanism has done as well as it has (for want of better)—it is the lodgement of free institutions in Europe that pends—I enclose John Burroughs'7 last8—havn't heard f'm him since—thanks f'r y'rs9


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 Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Sep 25 | 8 PM | 89; London | PM | SP 27 | 89 | Canada. The envelope also includes a Philadelphia postmark, but only the name of the city is legible. [back]

2. Henry Mills Alden (1836–1919) was managing editor of Harper's Weekly from 1863 to 1869 and editor of Harper's Monthly Magazine from 1869 until his death. [back]

3. Whitman's poem "Death's Valley" was published in Harper's Monthly Magazine 84 (April 1892): 707–709. [back]

4. Whitman is referring to George Inness' "The Valley of the Shadow of Death" (see Whitman's letter of August 29, 1889 to the Editor of Harper's New Monthly Magazine and note 1. [back]

5. Whitman sent "Bravo, Paris Exposition!" to Harper's Weekly on September 18, 1889 (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]); on the following day editor John Foord (1862–1922) accepted the poem and enclosed $10 in payment in his letter of September 19, 1889. It appeared on September 28. See also Whitman's letter to Bucke of June 8–9, 1889[back]

6. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

7. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. See the letter from John Burroughs to Whitman of August 27, 1889[back]

9. On September 20, 1889 Bucke confided to Whitman that he might resign his position if the meter proved successful. Of Whitman's health he wrote: "I have great hopes that you may have some comfort in your life yet—and beyond—beyond? Yes, we shall have good times yet—the old times were good but the new times shall be better." The poet, interestingly, never responded to Bucke's cosmic exuberance. [back]


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