Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, [27]–28 October 1889

Date: October [27]–28, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07719

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

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

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Sunday night—Oct: 27—Strange I did not get word by to-night's mail of the arrival of Ed2 or y'r picture-packet I sent—due by noon 21st—& y'r letter 25th rec'd3 to-night—a dull day no visitors—I wriggle f'm the chair to the bed—read & write &c &c—but keep up pretty good spirits— will see what to-morrow brings forth—

Oct: 28—It is near noon—Yrs of 26th rec'd4—Give my best remembrance and love to Pardee,5 to Maurice,6 and to Dr. Beemer7—want to hear soon as Ed W arrives whether the packet of pictures reaches you in good order—you will see Tennyson's8 "Throstle"9 in one of the papers I sent—I send you last Critic—(I think there is more piled on & more honey plaster'd, on Fields's10 Hawthorne and Dickens papers in the "yesterdays" than I said—they are both good tho')—

I enclose a "Viking Age" notice11—my tho't is we are (myself among the rest) more genesis'd f'm those far-back Danes and Norwegians than we have any idea of, or have allow'd for—Dull and heavy & alone yesterday & to-day—head in a rather bad way—dark & half-rainy weather continued—am writing a little but not feeling ab't it—is now 2 P M—no Horace12 yesterday—

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 Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Oct 28 | 8 PM | 89. [back]

2. 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. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

3. Whitman is referring to Bucke's letter of October 25, 1889[back]

4. This letter does not appear to be extant. [back]

5. Whitman is referring to Richard Maurice Bucke's son, Edward Pardee Bucke (1875–1913), apparently named after Dr. Bucke's friend, the politician Timothy Blair Pardee. Edward, often called "Pardee," was the fifth of eight children of Dr. Bucke and his wife Jessie. He would receive his M.D. from the Univeristy of Western Ontario in 1897 and practice otolaryngology in London, Ontario. [back]

6. Maurice Andrews Bucke (1868–1899) was the oldest son of Richard Maurice Bucke and his wife Jessie Gurd Bucke. Maurice, named after his father, died in Montana in a carriage accident when he was thirty-one years old. [back]

7. Dr. N. H. Beemer was in charge of the "Refractory Building" at Bucke's asylum and served as his first assistant physician. Whitman met Beemer during his visit there in the summer of 1880. See James H. Coyne, Richard Maurice Bucke: A Sketch (Toronto: Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 1906), 52. [back]

8. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

9. "Throstle" was a parody of Tennyson by the English poet and author Edmund Gosse (1849–1928). Whitman also mentions "Throstle" in his letters to Bucke of October 27–28, 1889, and October 31, 1889[back]

10. James T. Fields (1817–1881) succeeded James Russell Lowell as editor of the Atlantic Monthly in 1861 and held the position until 1871. Fields wrote a book of reminiscences of his friendships with various authors, called Yesterdays with Authors (1871); two of the authors were Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne. [back]

11. Whitman is referring to a three-column review from the Philadelphia Press of Paul B. Du Chailu's The Viking Age; the reviewer was probably Melville Phillips. [back]

12. 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 mid-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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