Life & Letters


About this Item

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

Date: December 20, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08199

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 Richard Maurice Bucke, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:95. 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 Dec 22 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot

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Medical Superintendent's
20 Dec

Well we are in Christmas week once more: and yesterday (thank goodness) I wound up my course of lectures with a very philosophical one on the gensis of insanity. I am now a free man once again and shall do some writing I hope between now and spring—but first of all I have to go (tomorrow) to Toronto on some government matters—shall return Tuesday or Wednesday—then we shall get Xmas safely over (I hope) and then for the literary business. I (as an experiment) spoke an hour yesterday without notes—was (and am) surprised that I got on so well—of course I omitted things that I should have said but on the whole am satisfied with the way the thing "eventuated." How are you, dear Walt? Not very well I fear.2 I hope I shall be able to see you before long.—

Best love to you.
So long!
RM 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 | De 21 | 91 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Dec22 | 4PM | 91 | Rec'd. [back]

2. On December 17, 1891, Whitman had come down with a chill and was suffering from congestion in his right lung. Although the poet's condition did improve in January 1892, he would never recover. He was confined to his bed, and his physicians, Dr. Daniel Longaker of Philadelphia and Dr. Alexander McAlister of Camden, provided care during his final illness. Whitman died on March 26, 1892. [back]


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