Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 7 July 1890

Date: July 7, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07935

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.

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

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noon July 7 '90

Y'rs telling me of Kennedy's2 arrival rec'd,3 & I congratulate you both for you must be having good talks & comparisons & questions & answers galore. Tip-top weather here lately, & I go out in wheel chair4 (legs feeble, almost worse)—breakfasted to-day on blackberries, tea & bread & honey —perhaps twice a week some roast meat, or mutton chop—oftener stewed mutton & rice, onions, corn & beans, beets, &c: &c:—appetite fair—sleep fair—bowel action yesterday—warm midday as I write but pleasant—I sit here all day in the big cane chair—get along better than you might fancy— Horace5 comes daily—As I glance out in the street I see the great young-mid-aged ice man going ab't his work bare headed under the sun, up & down, spry & stout & contented—& his huge canvas cover'd wagon (& fat slow horses) rumbling along—the loud long whistle or gong for 1 o'clock is just sounding—the dinner hour over—I can fancy you there & the lawns & shrubbery & veranda & all—& the pleasant sun set hour & evening—& Kennedy's enjoyment of all & yours too (every thing better there than you realize tho')—I send you Critic (nothing much)—If there was a good flying machine running I w'd flit thither & join you & K for a couple of days—

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, [illegible] | Jul 7 | 8 PM | 90; London | PM | JY 9 | 9 [illegible] | Canada. [back]

2. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. The letter from Bucke that Whitman refers to here may not survive. Bucke's next letter, dated July 6, 1890, noted Kennedy's departure. [back]

4. 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]

5. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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