Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 18 November 1890

Date: November 18, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07855

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

Editorial note: The annotation, "Y'rs of 16th rec'd.," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Zainab Saleh, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3

noon Nov: 18 '90

Had some oatmeal porridge & tea for breakfast—bladder trouble bad—head stuffy & thick—send off, (at their request) a little thanksgiving poemet to N Y World $103—I shall write & send (perhaps a little poetry cluster) to the Arena monthly—as they have ask'd something4—(I am writing a little)—an Englishman Hamilton Aidé, companion & (I believe) secretary of Stanley,5 has been over to see me—talked well (good, a little passé, genteel) pleasant impression, very eulogistic—belly ache seems to have ab't fizzled out—splendid show here of the brightest prettiest yellow chrysanthemums I ever saw, & white ones too—a fine sunny forenoon but now clouded up & looks like rain or snow—

Have written a poemet "Old Chants" wh' when printed I will send you—(I wanted to bow down to the great old poems more deferentially than ever)—they are going on with the printing R G I's6 lecture7 in little book in N Y—the Dec. Lippincotts has this piece I enc:8 y'r letters rec'd & always welcomed—

I have sent the white (mole color'd) hat over to be dyed black & trimm'd—Have been re-reading that long letter in the old Bury (Eng) paper ab't y'r early explorations9—growing colder—I have a good oak fire

Fox's10 eye glasses to me are failures11

Walt Whitman

Yours of 16th rec'd

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. There is no extant letter from Bucke to Whitman dated the 16th. The poet might have meant Bucke's letter of the 15th[back]

2. This letter is addressed: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, [illegible] | Nov 19 | 6 AM | 90; London | PM | No 20 | 9 | Canada; N.Y. | 11-19-90 | 1030 AM | [illegible]. [back]

3. To Julius Chambers (1850–1920), managing editor of the New York World, Whitman sent a piece entitled "Walt Whitman's Thanksgiving," which appeared in the paper on November 23 with this preface: "From out of buoyant spirits, fine weather and brightest sunshine (Nov: 18 '90) I send hearty salutations in advance to The World readers, staff, and printers—Why not say, all the Commonwealth—aye, the orb itself, all hands? Carlyle said the truest poetry was impell'd by gratitude, adoration, the richness of love, thanksgiving (it is a deep criticism). I sometimes wonder whether this native festa of ours is not to be kicked out of all the celebration days of our New World, and spread to all our confines, and become our distinctive day, autochthonous, representative of our whole Nationality. Though old and helplessly paralyzed, I am among you in New York more than you think; and, while I cannot send you anything particularly new, I re-dedicate to you all, as follows, one of my late personal utterances. . . ." Following this preface, "Thanks in Old Age" was printed in its entirety. The poet was paid $10 on November 23 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

4. On November 22, Whitman sent six poems to Isaac N. Baker, who was apparently associated with The Arena: "Old Chants," "On, on the Same, Ye Jocund Twain!" "Sail Out for Good, Eidólon Yacht," "L. of G.'s Purport," "For Us Two, Reader Dear," and "My Task" (?). The cluster was rejected by B. O. Flower, the editor, on December 2; he preferred "an essay from your pen to poems." [back]

5. Whitman is referring to Charles Hamilton Aidé (1826–1906), who was a poet, novelist, and British army officer. Also visiting the poet was Sir Henry Morton Stanley (1841–1904), a Welsh journalist and explorer who made a triumphal tour of America in 1890. [back]

6. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

7. On October 21, 1890, at Horticultural Hall in Philadelphia, Robert Ingersoll delivered a lecture in honor of Walt Whitman titled Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman. Whitman recorded in his Commonplace Book that the lecture was "a noble, (very eulogistic to WW & L of G) eloquent speech, well responded to by the audience," and the speech itself was published in New York by the Truth Seeker Company in 1890 (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). [back]

8. Of "To the Sun-Set Breeze" Bucke said on November 22: "If I know any thing of L. of G. or of you this is one of the most subtle, extraordinary little poems you ever wrote and so far from its being done off-hand it seems to me deeper than the deepest study—even to follow in thought the (double) meaning of it makes me feel giddy as in looking up, up, into the far sky." This is the poem highly praised by Ezra Pound; see Leaves of Grass: Comprehensive Reader's Edition, ed. Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley (New York: New York University Press, 1965), 546–547n. "To the Sun-Set Breeze" was published in Lippincott's Magazine 46 (December 1890), 861. [back]

9. When he was a young man, Bucke explored the American West, including trekking through the mountains of California in the winter of 18571–858 on a silver-mining expedition; as the only survivor of his party, he walked alone out of the mountains, suffering severe frostbite that led to the loss of one foot and part of the other one. [back]

10. Edward B. Fox was an optician with an office on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. He invented and patented several types of eyeglasses in the late 1880s and early 1890s (see The Jeweler's Circular and Horological Review [November 28, 1894], 68). [back]

11. Whitman was examined by an oculist, Dr. Thomas, on October 25, 1890. Thomas was to assist the poet in obtaining "suitable glasses." See Whitman's letter to Bucke of October 26, 1890. Whitman also reports on his dissatisfaction with the glasses in his letter of November 13, 1890[back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.