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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 10 April 1890

Very bad night—stupid day—Horace Furness2 and his father the old doctor (88)3 here to see me this afternoon—a splendid antique, but looks like a cadaver tho—Horace very deaf, gets along sort o' with ear trumpet—both real friends of mine & L of G. I sit here tiding it all over—am just taking my supper—a bit of toast bread & rasperry jam & small cup of coffee (first time in 10 days)—

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, N.J. | Apr 10 | 8 PM | 90. [back]
  • 2. Horace Howard Furness (1833–1912) was the distinguished editor of the Variorum Shakespeare, and was one of the honorary pallbearers at Whitman's funeral. See also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, January 12, 1889. On April 27, 1890, Whitman sent Furness a copy of "O Captain! My Captain!" (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). See also Whitman's April 30, 1890, letter to Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, a physician specializing in nervous disorders. Furness was somewhat snide in a letter he wrote to English poet Edmund Gosse on March 29, 1892, three days after the poet's death: "Let us hope that he is now more favourably situated than erstwhile for giving a 'yawp over the roofs of the world.' I should be sorry to think that the yawp would reverberate through our cellars. I'm not sure that the very best of Walt was not his Jovian looks. Latterly when I used to see him in his room, with that majestic avalanche of a beard flowing in snowy luxuriousness over his broad chest, it was not hard to convert his blue wrapper into blue sky and the vast & innumerable newspapers piled knee deep around him in[to] the clouds of Olympus. And, oh, the lot of funny stories about him, gossip pure & simple but nourishing, which 'twould take too long to write & must be reserved for the pleasant time when you & I can ha'e a crack thegither." [back]
  • 3. Reverend Doctor William Henry Furness (1802–1896) was a close friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Unitarian minister at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, and a prominent and committed abolitionist. [back]
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