Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 5 February 1890

Date: February 5, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07755

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 Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:24–25. 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, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

noon Feb: 5 '901

A rare egg & Graham br'd for my breakfast—Y'r good letter rec'd2—the sun is out after clouding for several days—I shall get out a little in wheel-chair3 (I got out even yesterday)—am moved (as the Quakers say) to write some poemetta these days—partly small orders, & part to please myself.

This cold or gathering in the head, & the bladder trouble continued, sometimes quite bad, sometimes less bad—massages unintermitted—appetite, night-rest & bowel action fair to fairish, wh' I am thankful for as it is, as no worse—Some of the fellows hereabout notice that the departing grippe leaves an eye bother, or liability—& there probably is something in that—I have mark'd defection & weakness in my own eyesight (but something of it before)—nothing serious yet—Shall try to send you any new thing I give out printed these days without fail, prose or verse—Enclosed the "Cipher" bit, also another slip of "Old Ages Ship"4—Suppose you rec'd the "Death Bouquets" ¶'s5 (bad typo errors in it)—

God's peace & health to you all—
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 (?) | Feb (?) | 6 AM | 90. [back]

2. Whitman is likely referring to Bucke's letter of February 4, 1890[back]

3. 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]

4. Whitman is referring to the poem "Shakspere-Bacon's Cipher," which appeared in the October 4, 1887, issue of The Cosmopolitan. He also refers to a corrected proof of "Old Age's Ship & Crafty Death's," which appeared in the February 1890 issue of the Century. See Whitman's September 3, 1887, letter to Samuel Sidney ("S.S.") McClure. [back]

5. "A Death-Bouquet" became the last section of Good-Bye My Fancy, which was later reprinted in Complete Prose Works (1892). [back]


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