Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 8 December 1891

Date: December 8, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08209

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, "Insert with notes Dec. 10th '92," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Ethan Heusser, Zainab Saleh, Cristin Noonan, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Medical Superintendent's
8 Dec. 1891

Your letter of 5th,1 enclosing Logan Smith's,2 came to hand last evening—as I was about to answer it today comes along the Complete L. of G.3 and letter of 6th4 announcing it! Thanks, dear Walt, many thanks for the good book with its good inscription and thanks equally for the good letter accompanying it. The finished book at last! After nearly 40 yrs building and polishing! Well it is worth it, it has (that same book) a wonderful future before it. What scholars will ponder it in the ages to come! What commentators darken it! What annotations load it with heavy & weary notes! but also what thousands and thousands of young men and young women and middleaged men & women will rejoice in it and find their lives deepened & widened by it! Yes & many will be driven to madness by its enticements to unfathomable deeps of thought & feeling. When it becomes known for long & long it will be THE BOOK—all others will stand on a lower plane. I am satisfied that I know something of it and of you—that is greatness enough for me—yes and greatness enough to carry my name down thro' all the ages

Love to you, dear Walt, now & always
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. See Whitman's letter of December 5, 1891. [back]

2. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was an essayist and literary critic. He was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith, a minister and writer who befriended Whitman, and he was the brother of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, one of Whitman's most avid followers. For more information on Logan, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Whitman wanted to have a copy of the final Leaves of Grass before his death, and he also wanted to be able to present copies to his friends. A version of the 1891–1892 Leaves of Grass, often referred to as the "deathbed edition," was bound in December of 1891 so that Whitman could give the volume to friends at Christmas. The following year, the 1891–1892 Leaves of Grass was published by Phildelphia publisher David McKay in 1892. This volume, often referred to as the "deathbed" edition, reprints, with minor revisions, the 1881 text from the plates of Boston publisher James R. Osgood. Whitman also includes his two annexes in the book. The first annex consisted of a long prefatory essay entitled "A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads" and sixty-five poems; while the second, "Good-Bye my Fancy," was a collection of thirty-one short poems taken from the gathering of prose and poetry published under that title by McKay in 1891. For more information on this volume of Leaves, see R.W. French, "Leaves of Grass, 1891–1892, Deathbed Edition," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. See Whitman's letter of December 6, 1891[back]


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