Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 26 May 1891

Date: May 26, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08146

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 notes: The annotation, "send Dr the slip (if you have it) 1/4 sheet Boston Trans; his little criticism "Good-Bye" of five days ago," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "see notes May 27 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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

page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3

Medical Superintendent's
26 May 1891

This morning has come and is welcomed yours of 23d with enclosures.2 Your own criticism of "Good-Bye"3 is good—will probably be the best—its general "old age" character is of course what it should have and if that involves (as in some sense it must) loss of power, dash and life it implies and gives something else just as good as these: undying courage, [vim?], and faith to the last in the scheme of the world and in man. These last words of yours "are valuable beyond measure to confirm and endorse" the facts and faith of your life. Have you a copy of Kennedy's4 criticism to share?5 I would like to see it. I hope to see you in a few days6 but cannot yet be sure, the foot is not so well7 again and it may hold me here yet—will write again tomorrow after seeing (this afternoon) the surgeon8 about it. All well here and fine weather tho' quite cool. I have a armful of lilacs in a big pitcher in front of me on my desk—they are good company

With 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: [illegible] | [illegible] | 26 | 91 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | MAY | 27 | [illegible]PM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of May 23, 1891[back]

3. 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" in 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]

4. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Kennedy's criticism from the May 21, 1891, issue of the Boston Transcript is reprinted in Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, May 23, 1891[back]

6. 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]

7. 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. Bucke's foot was still healing, and is the reason for his lameness. [back]

8. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

9. Whitman wrote this note for Horace Traubel on the envelope in which Whitman received the letter. Traubel mentions the note in in his With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, May 27, 1891[back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.