Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 19 April 1891

Date: April 19, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08137

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes april 21st 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, Alex Ashland, and Jason McCormick

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19 Apr. 91

I have your card of 16th2 and feel pretty bad that you do not rally. I am getting anxious about you, dear Walt, and shall get East to see you as soon as possible.3 If I go to England4 should make a point of seeing you on the way. You must be very weak and that wheel chair5 exercise does not seem to suit you any more. It is too rough—too jolting—I used to wonder year or two ago that you could stand it—if you only had good roads (like the Park) and a carriage that wd be the thing for you.

As for myself I am geting on very well—still confined to my room (except that I get out every day for a drive) but not sick—the foot still inflamed6 but mending daily—not much pain or irritation in it now and I can sleep very well—I sit here and read and write letters—Beemer7 comes over and we consult abt. asylum affairs and all goes on just about as well as if I was at the office (but I shall be glad to get back there again).

It is charming weather here—the grass is green again and the grounds full of birds—I sit here looking out the window and enjoying it all—in a week or two if this weather lasts the trees will be pretty on their beautiful summer drapery.

With love, dear Walt, yr friend
R M Bucke

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: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey | U.S.A. It is postmarked: LONDON | AM | AP 20 | 91 | CANADA.; CAMDEN, N.J. | APR | 21 | 12PM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. See Whitman's postal card to Bucke of April 16, 1891[back]

3. Bucke wanted to visit Whitman on or around May, 31, 1891—Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday. The occasion was celebrated with friends at Whitman's home on Mickle Street. [back]

4. As Bucke's letters in May and June 1891 both to Whitman and Horace Traubel make clear, he was going abroad to establish a foreign market for his gas and fluid meter, a subject to which he referred constantly in his communications but which the poet studiously ignored. [back]

5. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

6. Bucke experienced a series of accidents and bouts with illness in the winter of 1890 and spring of 1891. He dislocated his shoulder as the result of a fall in December 1890. See Bucke's letter of December 25, 1890, to Whitman's biographer and literary executor Horace Traubel, which is reprinted in With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, December 27, 1890. In his April 13, 1891, letter to Whitman, Bucke writes that his foot, which had been sore for a couple of weeks, had become inflamed. He goes on to note that he was "confined" in his room while his foot was "mending," and he also explains that the "grip" he had suffered in late January seemed to have lingering symptoms that he continued to experience. [back]

7. Dr. Nelson Henry (N. H.) Beemer (ca. 1854–1934) was in charge of the "Refractory Building" at Bucke's asylum and served as his first assistant physician. Whitman met Beemer during his visit there in the summer of 1880. See James H. Coyne, Richard Maurice Bucke: A Sketch (Toronto: Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 1906), 52. [back]


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