Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 15 February 1889

Date: February 15, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: med.00849

Source: The location of this manuscript is unknown. Lozynsky's transcription is derived from Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, vol. 4, ed. Scully Bradley (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953), 163. The transcription presented here is derived from Richard Maurice Bucke, The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), 108. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Caterina Bernardini, Stefan Schöberlein, and Stephanie Blalock

[15 February 1889]1

O'Connor's2 condition3 is infernal, and there's only one way out of it. It seems too devilish bad that such a man should have to go through such a bad time, but there is no use growling at it. We must grin and bear it. It cannot last long: that is the only consolation.

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. The date for this letter is provided in Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, February 17, 1889[back]

2. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. On February 8, 1889, Whitman forwarded to the physician Richard Maurice Bucke, a February 7, 1889, card from Ellen O'Connor, in which she asked the poet to tell Bucke that William "is failing." [back]


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