Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 25 April 1890

Date: April 25, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07794

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), 5:42. 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, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

April 25 '901

Dark rainy day—warm—still under the bad influence of the grip—A London Eng: pub'r (I suppose pub'r) has sent to McKay2 asking my price for 100 sets sheets complete (big) book3—I have ans'd $320 for them complete—suppose you rec'd the printed item acc't of the 15th April show4—y'r letters rec'd5 & welcomed—Have sent off a page of poetic stuff (new) to Lippincott's6—Did you know Tennyson7 has been talking very strongly in favor of L of G?8—Ditto some big college gun at Boston—


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. | Apr 25 | 8 PM | 90; London | AM | Ap 23 | 90 | Canada. [back]

2. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–82. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the original publisher, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, Complete Prose Works, and the final Leaves of Grass, the so-called deathbed edition. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Frederick Oldach was a German bookbinder whose Philadelphia firm bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume that included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The nearly 900-page book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]

4. This is a reference to Whitman's lecture entitled "The Death of Abraham Lincoln." He first delivered this lecture in New York in 1879 and would deliver it at least eight other times over the succeeding years, delivering it for the last time on April 15, 1890. He published a version of the lecture as "Death of Abraham Lincoln" in Specimen Days and Collect (1882–83). For more on the lecture, see Larry D. Griffin, "'Death of Abraham Lincoln,'" Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Whitman could be referring to Bucke's most recent extant letter of April 24, 1890. The only extant letter from Bucke dated earlier than the 24th is his letter of April 14, 1890. Whitman had written to Bucke several times between the 14th and the 24th. [back]

6. Whitman's poem "To the Sun-Set Breeze" was published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in December 1890. His poem "Old-Age Echoes" was published in the magazine in March 1891. [back]

7. 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. Whitman wrote to Tennyson in 1871 or late 1870, probably shortly after the visit of Cyril Flower in December, 1870, but the letter is not extant (see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 223). Tennyson's first letter to Whitman is dated July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

8. On April 21, 1890 Whitman wrote in his Commonplace Book: "Horace T. comes with the item (f'm a letter seen by Frank Williams, Phila.) of Tennyson's criticism on L og G." The "criticism" appeared in the Philadelphia American on April 26. See The Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. See also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, April 21, 1890[back]


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