Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 22 March 1891

Date: March 22, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08016

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), 5:179. 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, Andrew David King, Jason McCormick, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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P M March 22 '91

No worse—just taken a small cup of cocoa—sent off MS of "old actors in N Y"2 to Truth weekly,3 $164—the Doctor5 has just been—upon the whole he thinks things satisfactory—I am whacking away valiantly (I suppose) with pen & ink—weather dark & sullen—death all around us6

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 22 | 5 PM | 91; [London] | AM | MR 23 | 91 | Canada. [back]

2. "Old Chants" appeared in Truth on March 19 (William Sloane Kennedy, The Fight of a Book for the World (1926), 272); it was "sent . . . by y'ng Mr [Joseph Alfred] Stoddart [the son of Joseph Marshall Stoddart, editor of Lippincott's Magazine]" on March 15, and Walt Whitman received $12 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). On March 24, Whitman tells Horace Traubel that he is happy with how "Old Chants" was published and that he has already sent his essay, "Old Actors, Singers, Shows, &c., in New York" to Truth. Whitman noted that he had asked for $16 in payment for the essay and had indicated that he wanted the piece to appear in print the following week (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, March 24, 1891). After a delay of several weeks, Traubel recorded that a version of the piece had "at last appeared" in Truth, where it filled only a single column (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, April 30, 1891). [back]

3. Truth began as a weekly magazine in New York in 1881. After a hiatus from 1884 to 1886, a new editor, Blakely Hall, revitalized the magazine with lavish illustrations, fiction, humor, poetry, and cartoons. For more information, see Susan Belasco's "Truth." [back]

4. "Old Actors, Singers, Shows, &c., in New York." Whitman returned the proof of the essay on April 10 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). See the letter from Whitman to Bucke of March 30–31, 1891[back]

5. Daniel Longaker (1858–1949) was a Philadelphia physician who specialized in obstetrics. He became Whitman's doctor in early 1891 and provided treatment during the poet's final illness. For more information, see Carol J. Singley, "Longaker, Dr. Daniel [1858–1949]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R.LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. The 1889–1890 viral influenza pandemic—one of the deadliest in history—had a recurrence in the U.S. starting in early March of 1891. Around a million died worldwide during the pandemic. [back]


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