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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 17 January 1891


Dark, cold, stormy-wet day out, slippery—falling rain freezing. Have had a markedly bad week days & nights but am weathering-it-on (as my phrase is)—smally but palpably easier to day—easier debouch to both water works & bowel works this forenoon & consequently less muddle & pain in head & general tone—appetite middling—am abstemious but I find it dont answer for me to be markedly abstemious, as I have tried two or three times to be—still eat rice & mutton stew, vegetables & bread, & drink mainly tea—Lippincotts wont print Kennedy's2 Dutch piece "affinities of WW" &c.3 but Horace4 wants it for his little paper5 & I have written to K for consent—(I like the piece)—Have not heard f'm the page of poemetta I sent to Scribner's6 a month or more ago—I also sent a little piece to Youth's Companion Boston7 & no word f'm them—expect printed slips of NA Rev:8 & Lip: pieces9 & sh'l send you copies if I get them—Enclosed my last bit10 (pay rec'd—small, but all I ask'd) f'm Critic—(wh' you will not likely commend)—So things go. I am sitting here same (a little shawl extra around my back neck & right shoulder ag't draft) comfortable & good trim enough & fair spirits but dark & glum enough out.—

Walt Whitman  loc_no.00105.jpg  loc_zs.00234.jpg  loc_zs.00235.jpg

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. | JAN 17 | 8 PM | 91; London | PM | JA 19 | 91 | Canada. [back]
  • 2. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. William Sloane Kennedy's "Walt Whitman's Dutch Traits" appeared in The Conservator, edited by Horace Traubel, in February, 1891. See Whitman's letter to Kennedy of January 20–21, 1891. [back]
  • 4. 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 late 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]
  • 5. Horace Traubel founded The Conservator in March 1890, and he remained its editor and publisher until his death in 1919. Traubel conceived of The Conservator as a liberal periodical influenced by Whitman's poetic and political ethos. A fair portion of its contents were devoted to Whitman appreciation and the conservation of the poet's literary and personal reputation. [back]
  • 6. On December 17, Whitman sent four poems: "Old Chants," "Grand is the Seen," "Death dogs my steps," and "two lines." He requested $100, but the poems were rejected by Scribner's on January 23, 1891 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.).See Whitman's letters to Bucke of December 24, 1890 and January 24, 1891. [back]
  • 7. In a letter of January 14, the editors of The Youth's Companion accepted Whitman's "Ship Ahoy" for publication. They paid the poet $15. See also Whitman's response of January 19. [back]
  • 8. On October 3, 1890, Whitman had accepted an invitation to write for The North American Review. He sent them "Old Poets," the first of a two-part prose contribution, on October 9. "Old Poets" was published in the November 1890 issue of the magazine, and Whitman's "Have We a National Literature?" was published in the March 1891 issue. [back]
  • 9. Joseph Marshall Stoddart, editor of Lippincott's, wrote to Whitman regarding plans to feature a Whitman page in the magazine on October 10, 1890. The March issue of Lippincott's in 1891 (Volume 47, pages 376–389) contained Whitman's portrait as a frontispiece, "Old Age Echoes" (including "Sounds of Winter," "The Unexpress'd," "Sail Out for Good, Eidólon Yacht!" and "After the Argument"), Whitman's "Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda," Horace Traubel's "Walt Whitman: The Poet and Philosopher of Man," and "The Old Man Himself. A Postscript." [back]
  • 10. Whitman is referring to his poem, "The Pallid Wreath," which was published in The Critic 18 (January 10, 1891): 18. [back]
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