Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 13–14 November 1889

Date: November 13–14, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07732

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Nov: 13 7½ p m

—Rainy & dark all day—moderate temperature—ab't as usual with me—bowel action this mn'g—stew'd oysters, Graham bread, apple sauce & coffee for my 4½ supper—great show of all-color'd chrysanthemums this season hereabout—you must have a splendid show of them—the yellow (canary) & white in a bunch are my favorites—but all are beautiful & cheery—I told you (in a p card)2 of Mrs: O'C's3 visit here—

Nov: 14 11 a m—Fine bright sunny forenoon—I suppose Mrs. O'C will return to Wash'n to-morrow—She is lodging with a friend in Phila—I am sitting here as usual—no letter mail yesterday & this forenoon, (except my usual daily stranger's autograph application)—pretty dull with me these days—yet I think I keep fair spirits (a blessed hereditament probably fr'm my dear mother—otherwise I sh'd go up forthwith)—am interested in that program of lectures, concerts, balls, &c: for the patients there—good, good4

1¼ P M Have had a good massage, & now I am going out in the wheel chair5—the sunshine bright & alluring indeed. The Lord be with you—

Walt Whitman

3½—have been out a little while in the wheel chair & returned—all right—

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. | Nov 14 | 8PM | 89; Philadelphia | Nov 14 | 8 PM | 89; London | PM | NO 16 | 89 | Canada. [back]

2. Whitman is referring to his postal card of November 13, 1889[back]

3. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. According to Bucke's letter on November 5, 1889, he was giving a series of lectures to students on such topics as "Melancholia" and "Mania." [back]

5. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]


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