Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 16 February 1891

Date: February 16, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08001

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.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Andrew David King, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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P M Feb: 16 '91

Dark wet day—poorly with me long obstinate constipation—Have you had "the New Spirit" book by Havelock Ellis,2 printed3 in shilling vol: by Walter Scott?4 Yr's of 14th5 rec'd this noon—am sitting here same—letters f'm Bolton Eng:6

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. | Feb 16 | 8 PM | 91. [back]

2. Henry Havelock Ellis (1859–1939) was an English physician and sexologist. He co-wrote Sexual Inversion (published in German 1896; English translation in 1897) with Whitman correspondent John Addington Symonds. His book The New Spirit, with a chapter on Whitman, appeared in 1890. [back]

3. Ellis mailed the book on February 3: "It is a feeble attempt to express the help & delight that your work has given me." Bucke noted on February 22 that he had had Ellis's book for a year: "The 'W. W.' is mostly good—has some bad shots in it." William Sloane Kennedy, Whitman's friend and author of Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (London: Alexander Gardener, 1896), however, disliked Ellis' "wofully mistaken and beastly idea of the Calamus poems"; see William Sloane Kennedy, The Fight of a Book for the World (West Yarmouth, Massachusetts: The Stonecroft Press, 1926), 39. Walt Whitman's copy of The New Spirit is in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. [back]

4. Walter Scott was a railway contractor and a publisher in London. His publishing firm, Walter Scott, was based in London and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and it was the imprint under which a number of Whitman's books appeared in England. Walter Scott's managing editor was bookbinder David Gordon, and Ernest Rhys—one of Whitman's major promoters in England—worked with the firm. Rhys included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. Walter Scott also published Whitman's 1886 English edition of Leaves of Grass and the English editions of Specimen Days in America (1887) and Democratic Vistas, and Other Papers (1888). [back]

5. See Bucke's letter of February 14, 1891[back]

6. See Johnston's letter of February 14, 1891[back]


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