Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 6 December 1891

Date: December 6, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08213

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 March 12 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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

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Camden NJ1
Dec: 6, '91

send same time with this first copy (rude, flimsy cover, but good paper, print & stitching) of L of G. at last complete2—after 33 yr's of hackling at it all times & moods of my life, fair weather & foul, all parts of the land, and peace & war, young & old—the wonder to me that I have carried it on to accomplish as essentially as it is tho' I see well enough its numerous deficiencies & faults (at any rate "From waiting long & long delay Johnny comes marching home"3) The cumulus character of the book4 is a great factor—perhaps even the jaggedness, or what might be call'd so f'm the conventional & tidy principles of "art"—probably is so anyhow—Bad days & nights with me, no hour without its suffering

Walt Whitman

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: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Dec 6 | 5 PM | [illegible]; Philadelphia, P.A. | Dec | 7 | PM | 91 | Transit; N.Y. | Dec | 7 | 11AM | 91 | Transit; [London] | De 7 | 91 | Canada. The recto of the envelope includes the following printed return address: Walt Whitman, | Camden, | New Jersey. Whitman wrote this letter on stationery printed with the following notice from the Boston Evening Transcript: "From the Boston Eve'g Transcript, May 7, '91.—The Epictetus saying, as given by Walt Whitman in his own quite utterly dilapidated physical case is, a 'little spark of soul dragging a great lumux of corpse-body clumsily to and fro around.'" This page has been torn on the left side, and, as a result, much of this printed text is missing. [back]

2. 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. [back]

3. Whitman is referring to the lyrics to the song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again," written by composer Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore (1829–1892) during the U. S. Civil War. The song was published under Gilmore's pseudonym—Louis Lambert—in 1863. [back]

4. The 1891–1892 Leaves of Grass was copyrighted in 1891 and 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]


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