Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 28 April 1890

Date: April 28, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07915

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "Enclosing "A Twilight Song"," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

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

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PM April 28 '90

Yr's of yesterday rec'd2—the steadiest reliance bet'n Cape May and Camden is the RR wh' runs twice a day & (I think) at times to give one six or seven hours in Camden or Phila—back to C M at a middling late hour in the afternoon

—Nothing very different with me—am probably easier from the grip but weak—decline invitations out—(to dinner &c)—Y'r "L of G & Modern Science" is in type & the proof has been or is forthwith to be sent to you3—The enclosed is the May Century piece4—growing warmer here—sunny—they have sent me the deed for the cemetery lot (so that is settled for)—I rather think I shall have a plain strong stone vault merely made for the present5

I have just been foolish enough to eat a great piece of sweet cake (filled in with cocoa-nut) bro't up by Mrs. D6 (baking to day)—& now wish I hadn't—was out in wheel chair7 yesterday & sh'l probably go out again this afternoon—have nearly always a dull (?sick) head ache & the eternal inertia—rec'd a letter8 f'm Edw'd Dowden9 (Ireland) he speaks of his father 95 y'rs old he is just visiting—

God bless 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, N.J. | Apr 28 | 8 PM | 90, London | AM | MY 1 | [illegible] | Canada; N. Y. | 4-29-90 | 11PM | 12. [back]

2. Whitman may be referring to Bucke's letter of April 24, 1890[back]

3. Whitman is referring to Bucke's "Leaves of Grass and Modern Science," The Conservator 1 (May 1890): 19. [back]

4. "A Twilight Song" was published in the May issue of Century[back]

5. Whitman was buried in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey, on March 30, 1892, four days after his death, in an elaborate granite tomb that he designed. Reinhalter and Company of Philadelphia built the tomb, at a cost of $4,000. Whitman covered a portion of these costs with money that his Boston friends had raised so that the poet could purchase a summer cottage; the remaining balance was paid by Whitman's literary executor, Thomas Harned. For more information on the cemetery and Whitman's tomb, see See Geoffrey M. Still, "Harleigh Cemetery" Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. 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]

8. See Edward Dowden's letter to Whitman of April 18, 1890[back]

9. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors. . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888, Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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