Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 28 February–1 March 1891

Date: February 28–March 1, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08012

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.

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

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Feb: 28, 3½ pm—

So-so with me—took last evn'g one of the powders (y'r prescription of June 10 1888) & some Fred: water2 this mn'g—a faint result but beneficial as far as it goes I guess—I never had so long & obstinate a constipating attack—I am poorly enough—but am amazed that I dont take down worse—y'rs of 25th rec'd3—you must have got the Lips4 by this time—the pieces & general show of them are satisfactory5—you'll see the Boston Transcript notice pities me & the poetic pieces for their sad waning—Horace's6 piece comes out finely—the picture is a queer one though—the Lips paid me $90 for my six pages—besides sending (addressing mailing) 100 copies at my instance7—am at the Good Bye8—the printers get on strangely slow, but I sh'l have some proofs to-night likely9—but n'importe if the text turns out right—(or rather if it does not turn out a palpable failure)—Have two orders for the big book,10 one for N Y City & one for Illinois, to-day.11 I suppose y'r Canada is all boiling with politics & will be for a week to come12

March 1st afternoon—Sharp cold to-day but sunny & bright—some proof last evn'g, (but very little, very slow)—no matter I am in no great hurry—The Lip: March & K's13 "Dutch Traits" piece14 have been sent out by Stoddart15 & H T copiously by mail, home & foreign—Have you rec'd y'r Lips?—Suppose you there are all red hot in political excitement—As I write there is not a breath here (except a faint vibration of Warry's16 fiddle down stairs) No visitors & no mail to-day—a good oak-wood fire—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. | MAR 1 | 5 PM | 91; LONDON | PM | MR 2 | 91 | CANADA; PHILADELPH [illegible] | M [illegible] | F [illegible] | TRANSIT; BUFFALO, N.Y. | MAR | 2 | 2PM | 91 | TRANSIT. [back]

2. Friedrichshall water is a purgative mineral water from springs located near Heidelberg, Germany. It was one of several mineral waters commonly used in the late nineteenth century to treat constipation. (See C. R. C. Tichborne, The Mineral Waters of Europe [London: Baillière, Tindall & Cox, 1883], Chapter 3, "Chemistry of the Purgative Waters.") [back]

3. Whitman is referring to Bucke's letter dated February 25, 1891. [back]

4. Lippincott's Monthly Magazine was a literary magazine published in Philadelphia from 1868 to 1915. Joseph Marshall Stoddart was the editor of the magazine from 1886 to 1894, and he frequently published material by and about Whitman. For more information on Whitman's numerous publications here, see Susan Belasco, "Lippincott's Magazine." [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." Also appearing in that issue was an autobiographical prose essay by Whitman ("Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda") and another piece on Whitman by Traubel. In his January 7, 1891, letter to Bucke, Whitman referred to the March issue of Lippincott's as "a Whitman number." See also Whitman's January 20–21, 1891, letter to William Sloane Kennedy. [back]

6. 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 mid-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]

7. See Whitman's letter to Joseph M. Stoddart of February 4, 1891[back]

8. 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 2d Annex" to 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]

9. Whitman would have Horace Traubel send Bucke a set of proofs—"a full set (66p) 'Good-Bye' annex" in May 1891. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of May 14, 1891[back]

10. Whitman's "big book" is a reference to his Complete Prose and Poetry (1888). Whitman published the book himself—in an arrangement with the Philadephia publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. [back]

11. On March 2 Whitman sent copies of Complete Poems & Prose to O. J. Bailey, in Peoria, Illinois, and to Alfred P. Burbank, at the Lotos Club in New York City, both of whom paid $12.80 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

12. Whitman is referring to Canada's upcoming national election. The main issue of the Canadian national election of 1891 was tariffs, with the Conservative Party, led by John A. Macdonald (1815–1891), wanting protective tariffs while the Liberal Party, led by Wilfred Laurier (1841–1919), wanted free trade with the U.S. The Conservatives won the election. [back]

13. 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). Apparently Kennedy had 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]

14. Kennedy's "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman" was published in The Conservator 1 (February 1891), 90–91. It was reprinted in In Re Walt Whitman, ed. Horace Traubel, et al. (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 195–199. [back]

15. Joseph Marshall Stoddart (1845–1921) published Stoddart's Encyclopaedia America, established Stoddart's Review in 1880, which was merged with The American in 1882, and became the editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1886. On January 11, 1882, Whitman received an invitation from Stoddart through J. E. Wainer, one of his associates, to dine with Oscar Wilde on January 14 (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 235n). [back]

16. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. [back]


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