Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 13 January 1891

Date: January 13, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08224

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Zainab Saleh, Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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Jan: 13 91 Evn'g

Have had two bad days & nights—bad bladder plight & lots else—easier this evn'g—"hope ever springs"—(bad surmises, tho' yesterday)2—Sh'l probably have a piece in the forthcoming NA Rev: (Feb:)3—the intentions keep on ab't March Lip:4 (we will see)

I write in fair trim

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. | Jan 13 | 8 PM | 91; London | [illegible] PM | JA 15 | 9 [illegible] | Canada. [back]

2. Whitman's remarks disturbed Bucke, who on January 17 wrote a "Private" letter to the poet's biographer Horace L. Traubel: "How do you account for such gloomy reports f'm W. to me when you see every thing 'coleur de rose'? My impression is that tho' putting (for most part) a good face on things W. is really in a pretty bad way and liable to collapse at any time." Again on February 10 in a letter for Traubel marked "For yourself only," Bucke expressed his concern about Whitman's health: "I look for a sudden end (when it comes) and I feel satisfied it may come any day" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Traubel and Bucke wrote to each other several times a week during the last fifteen months of Whitman's life. [back]

3. See Whitman's letter to the editor of The North American Review of November 4, 1890. Whitman's "Have We a National Literature?" was published in the March 1891 issue of the magazine. [back]

4. In March 1891, Lippincott's Magazine published "Old Age Echoes," a cycle of four poems including "Sounds of the Winter," "The Unexpress'd," "Sail Out for Good, Eidólon Yacht," and "After the Argument," accompanied by an extensive autobiographical note called "Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda." Also appearing in that issue was a piece on Whitman entitled, "Walt Whitman: Poet and Philosopher and Man" by Horace Traubel. [back]


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