Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 13 December 1889

Date: December 13, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07739

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), 4:405. 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, Ryan Furlong, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock

Evn'g Dec: 13 '891

Continuing fairly—have been out in the wheel chair2 I guess two miles—Sunny mild weather here—So Browning3 is dead—as it has happen'd I never read him much—(Does he not exercise & rather worry the intellect—something like a sum in arithmetic?)—Am sitting here alone as usual in my den—all right I guess4

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. | Dec 13 | 8 PM | (?); London | AM | De 16 | 89 | Canada. [back]

2. 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]

3. The English poet Robert Browning (1812–1889), known for his dramatic monologues, including "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess," was also the husband of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861). [back]

4. Bucke had written on December 8, 1889: "I have spent part of the day looking over L. of G. and I wish I could tell you, or convey to you in the faintest way, the deep down emotions that that book excites in me. There is nothing stirs me up like it. Sometimes as I read it I feel as if my whole previous life were rolling en masse through me, and as if at the same time vast vistas were opening ahead which I longed and yet half dreaded to enter. The profound religious sentiment which that book is destined to develope in the human heart when it becomes once assimilated by (incorporated into) the life of the race is, I think, simply inconceivable at present." [back]


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