Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 2 April 1891

Date: April 2, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08021

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, Andrew David King, Jason McCormick, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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April 2 '91

Y'rs of 31st M comes & helps me much2—& I need it for I am feeling badly—& yet guess things medically & physically are going on as near to satisfaction as c'd be expected—bowel action to-day—(g't straining)—Dr L3 not here to-day—company & talk make me headachy & deaf—dark & raw weather—


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 postal card is addressed: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Apr 3 | 6 AM | 91; N.Y. | 4-3-9[1] | 10 30 AM | 9[1]. [back]

2. Bucke, on March 31, 1891, wrote eloquently of Whitman's book Good-bye My Fancy (1891), quoting from "L. of G.'s Purport": "Well, the 'haughty song—before in ripened youth—never even for one brief hour abandon'd,' is finished, and the singer soon departs—and the present listeners soon depart. But the song remains and will do its work—that same song is the most virile, potent and live thing on this earth today—and the singer and the listeners they go the way provided for them but they will not get out of the range of this prophetic utterance." That Bucke was in part writing for posterity is evident from a passage in his April 5, 1891, letter to Horace Traubel, "If you see my letter to W. of 31st Mar kicking about save it or return it to me—W. refers to it in card of 2d inst. and I may want it later" (The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C). [back]

3. 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]


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