Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 23 Feburary 1891

Date: February 23, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08008

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, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot

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early P M Feb: 23 '91

Sunny bright day—still bound up & bad but a slight turn for better—(have just bo't & used a good enema pipe & seems helpful)2—Sent off the copy for "Good Bye"3 pp: 3 to 42 to printer, but he sends me word he can only put one man on it—(dont expect the proof complete for ten days)—my piece is adv: for March N A Rev:4 (it will be very scrappy)—a little delay in March Lip:5 but yrs will go to-morrow I guess yr letter rec'd6

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 23 | 8 PM | 91; London | PM | Fe 25 | 91 | Canada. [back]

2. On February 26, Richard Maurice Bucke, spoke as a doctor: "The enema business is all very well in its way but it will not do much for you—you want the upper bowel to act as well as the lower—if you would take a dose of Freidrickshall early in the morning and an enema after 3 or 4 hours to assist it (if necessary) that would be more like what is wanted and you might do this 2 or 3 times a week." [back]

3. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy" in Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Whitman published "Have We a National Literature?" in the March 1891 issue of The North American Review[back]

5. In March 1891, Lippincott's Magazine published "Old Age Echoes," a cycle of four poems including "Sounds of the Winter," "The Unexpress'd," "Sail Out for Good, Eidólon Yacht," and "After the Argument," accompanied by an extensive autobiographical note called "Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda." Also appearing in that issue was a piece on Whitman entitled, "Walt Whitman: Poet and Philosopher and Man" by Horace Traubel. [back]

6. See Bucke's letter of February 22, 1891[back]


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