Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 5 March 1891

Date: March 5, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08013

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. . The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:173. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Stephanie Blalock, and Andrew David King

early P M March 5 '91

Y'rs of 3d2 rec'd—No I am not worse—bad enough, the most obstinate & long continued bound up spell yet—but I fancy a slight shade leaning to the better—you must be this moment at the highest of the tempest gale there3—we have got the international copyright law4 pass'd here—my piece is in March N[orth] A[merican] Rev[iew].5

I send you slips6


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 5 | 8 PM | 91. [back]

2. Whitman may be referring to Bucke's letter dated March 3, 1891[back]

3. In his letter dated March 3, 1891 Bucke referred to the forthcoming Canadian elections: "I am boiling over with suppressed excitement thank goodness only 2 more days." [back]

4. The International Copyright Act of 1891, also referred to as the Chace Act, was the first U.S. Congressional Act that extended some limited copyright protections to foreign copyright holders from select nations. [back]

5. On October 3, 1890, Whitman had accepted an invitation to write for The North American Review. He sent them "Old Poets," the first of a two-part prose contribution, on October 9. "Old Poets" was published in the November 1890 issue of the magazine, and Whitman's "Have We a National Literature?" was published in the March 1891 issue. [back]

6. On March 10, 1891 Bucke commented: "It is good, first rate in fact—the language a little cranky and queer in places but the thought fresh and vigorous and true. I like it well." [back]


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