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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 25 January 1890


I have yours of 22d. I am glad you are coming round to the Hospital scheme.2 It is (of all others) the scheme for you. You may live for years, you cannot get much (if any) stronger and may get much more helpless. In a good hospital you would be surrounded by absolutely capable attendants (doctors and nurses) and whatever happened you would be properly cared for and made as comfortable as skill and science could make you. I know your powers of endurance, they are (like the rest of your faculties) out of the line of ordinary. But what use to tax them unnecessarily? I believe with care and skill properly directed you might even  loc_es.00708.jpg yet have many a good week and month while I fear as at present situated you have mighty few. I will make enquiry about Johns Hopkins (that is a palace of medical skill and physical comfort for the sick and helpless) Baltimore and let you know. If a change is decided on I shall go on and see you moved and settled. Don't forget to send me the "poemet."3 Where is Symonds4 letter5? I should like much to see Steads6 "Review of Reviews" please send it. I think you are right not to trouble about the money (income) matter. If money is needed it will be found.

We are better here—La Grippe is "letting up" on us and things are beginning to resume their old course

I send my love to you R. M. Bucke  loc_es.00705.jpg  loc_es.00706.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: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: London | PM | Ja 25 | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Jan | 27 | 12M | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. On April 24 Bucke wrote of "the John Hopkins Hospital. Walt, if I were in your fix I would think seriously of going there for the next six months or a year . . . as a private patient. . . . I do not suppose the expence would be much more than the present subsidy but if it is we can easily get more money." See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, April 26, 1889. [back]
  • 3. Bucke is referring to "Old Age's Ship & Crafty Death's," which appeared in the February issue of the Century. [back]
  • 4. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. Bucke is referring to John Addington Symonds' letter of December 9, 1889. [back]
  • 6. William Thomas Stead (1849–1912) was a well-known English journalist and editor of The Pall Mall Gazette in the 1880s. He was a proponent of what he called "government by journalism" and advocated for a strong press that would influence public opinion and affect government decision-making. His investigative reports were much discussed and often had significant social impact. He has sometimes been credited with inventing what came to be called "tabloid journalism," since he worked to make newspapers more attractive to readers, incorporating maps, illustrations, interviews, and eye-catching headlines. He died on the Titanic when it sank in 1912. [back]
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