Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 20 May 1891

Date: May 20, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08144

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes May 22 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Andrew David King, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock

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Medical Superintendent's
20 May 1891

All quiet here.

The lilacs are not out in the grounds here yet but they will be in a few more days.

"Good-Bye"2 which was mailed a week ago reached me noon today—have spent an hour looking through it since—it is a most charming little vol.—has not (of course) the power of the early books (either verse or prose) but has a charm of its own which will make it equal, in attractiveness, to any of your books. But I have not half examined it yet and must put off for another letter my dicta upon it.

I am well but not strong and keep very lame3 so much so that I have grave doubts about geting east 31st4 much as I want to go—(but I may improve between now and then)

We shall see, meanwhile best love
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 | [illegible] | MY 20 | 91 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | MAY | 22 | 12 PM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. Whitman's biographer and disciple Horace Traubel had recently sent Bucke a set of proofs—"a full set (66p) 'Good-Bye' annex." See Whitman's letter to Bucke of April 14, 1891. 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]

3. In his April 13, 1891, letter to Whitman, Bucke had reported that his foot, which had been sore for a couple of weeks, had become inflamed. [back]

4. Bucke meant that he was planning 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]


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