Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 1 December 1891

Date: December 1, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08214

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.

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

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Dec: 1 '91

No final settlement of the tomb2 bill question3—no books last ed'n L of G4 yet f'm binder, but expect them every day—Sunny cold weather—very bad physical cond'n night & day—still eat my meals (tolerably lightly)—get a new book (sh'd say $1.25) Modern Authors, by Arthur Lynch,5 pub'd London Ward & Downey 12 York St. Covent Garden6 H.T.7 well

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 postal card is addressed: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N J. | Dec 1 | 6 PM | 91; London | PM | DE 3 | 91 | Canada. [back]

2. Whitman was buried in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey, on March 30, 1892, four days after his death, in an elaborate granite tomb that he designed. Reinhalter and Company of Philadelphia built the tomb, at a cost of $4,000. Whitman covered a portion of these costs with money that his Boston friends had raised so that the poet could purchase a summer cottage; the remaining balance was paid by Whitman's literary executor, Thomas Harned. For more information on the cemetery and Whitman's tomb, see See Geoffrey M. Still, "Harleigh Cemetery" Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. See Whitman's letters to Bucke of November 12–14, 1891 and November 22, 1891, for more on the payment arrangements for the tomb. [back]

4. 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]

5. Arthur Alfred Lynch (1861–1934) was an Irish Australian journalist, author, civil engineer, and physician. He served as a member of Parliament in the United Kingdom House of Commons in 1901 and 1902. He later practiced medicine in London, and he wrote a number of books on a variety of subjects. [back]

6. Whitman is referring to Lynch's Modern Authors: A Review and a Forecast (1891). In this book, Lynch claims that Whitman's "Emotional Calibre is second to none" (41–44), that he was "not cultured enough" but had an "eminently virile mind" (85–87), that he "is a new Columbus" (123–127) and a moral poet (171–172). He concludes: "The great pioneer is a vital Ausgangspunkt" (188). Lynch is quoted briefly in In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), ed. Horace L. Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned, 148. [back]

7. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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