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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 1 April 1890

Sun shining brightly & gayly as I write—The grip has seized me at last—bad case of aggravated cold in the head &c. &c. with chest, throat, joints &c: badly affected—bad enough, this is the fourth or fifth day, but if it passes off at these (wh' I think it will) will think myself lucky—As one thing I wish to speak the "Death of Abraham Lincoln" once more April 152—(probably the last time, ab't the 12th or 13th)—They are thinking of a sort of dinner3 in Phila May 31 in compliment of my beginning on my 72d year, but we will see. Every thing is going on much the same—am sitting here as usual by the fire—weather mostly unpleasant and dark & stormy—I get out at intervals in wheel chair4—appetite & sleep not even as well as before—but I hardly call them real bad yet—good bowel action day before yesterday—eye sight failing, bad sometimes—

Suppose you rec'd 2d number of Stead's5 magazine6 I sent—Did I tell you the (London) Universal Review, Feb. 15, prints an article (mark'd "in French") ab't me7—I don't know whether it is the old article we know or a new one—the May Century8 coming is to have a little poemet of mine—I will send you a couple of printed impressions on slips—Harry Stafford9 has given up his telegraphing & RR job and moved to a nice (hired) farm with his wife10 & two childer—he is poorly—the mind-clouding was temporary—(the worst of course is the eligibility of returning & worse)—¼ to 2—I have had my massage—y'rs of 30th11 comes & is welcome—the April Century comes—the pretty deep snow of yesterday eliminates—the spring shows itself apace—what a tough old rosy earth it is after all (& itself saying nothing ab't it—no bragging or whining or chinning)—

God bless you all— 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 letter is addressed: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden (?) | Apr (?) | 8 PM | 90. [back]
  • 2. It had been Whitman's custom in the past years to deliver a lecture on Lincoln on or about April 15, the day of Lincoln's assassination. See Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1955), 483–484, 491–492, 524, and 525. See also Whitman's March 23, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]
  • 3. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]
  • 4. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. Stead's magazine was The Review of Reviews. [back]
  • 7. The Universal Review reprinted Gabriel Sarrazin's essay "Poètes modernes de l'Amérique—Walt Whitman" in French. See The Universal Review 6 (1890): 247–269 [back]
  • 8. Whitman's poem "A Twilight Song" was published in the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine in May 1890. [back]
  • 9. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (1858–1918) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in a December 13, 1876, letter to John H. Johnston), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. In 1883, Harry married Eva Westcott. For further discussion of Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. Eva Westcott married Harry Stafford in 1884. [back]
  • 11. Bucke had written to Whitman on March 27, 1890; if he wrote a letter on March 30, 1890, it may not survive. [back]
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