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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 13–14 June 1891


Well I suppose Horace2 & Annie3 have started southwestward, & are expectable here to-morrow4 noon—the horrible lassitude & caved-in feeling is upon me to-day—Dr L5 comes often & does his best but the head, gastric & bladder lesions remain & operate in the main—I am often told "you look well enough" but it is a mockery—warm yet pleasant weather, & I feel a welcome breeze—the financial embezzlements in Phil:6 are yet the great topic—nothing greater of the kind ever happen'd—it is fearful to say they are representative—what next?—

Sunday aft'n—June 14—Horace & Annie have ret'd safely & the MS:7 goes into Stoddart's8 hands to morrow (I have mark'd a little more can be cut still)—fine weather here—hot—good bath a few hours ago—a letter to H. f'm Lowell9!!—(good hevings10 where are we going to?11)—am sitting here as usual—might be worse—bad, (congested?) half-achy head—

W W  loc_jm.00200.jpg  loc_jm.00201.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. | Jun 14 | 5 PM | 91; Buffalo, N. Y. | 10 AM 1891 | Transit; London | PM | JU 15 | 91 | Canada. Whitman wrote this letter on stationery printed with the following notice from the Boston Evening Transcript: "From the Boston Eve'g Transcript, May 7, '91.—The Epictetus saying, as given by Walt Whitman in his own quite utterly dilapidated physical case is, a 'little spark of soul dragging a great lummux of corpse-body clumsily to and fro around.'" [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. Anne Montgomerie (1864–1954) married Horace Traubel in Whitman's Mickle Street house in Camden, New Jersey, in 1891. They had one daughter, Gertrude (1892–1983), and one son, Wallace (1893–1898). Anne was unimpressed with Whitman's work when she first read it, but later became enraptured by what she called its "pulsating, illumined life," and she joined Horace as associate editor of his Whitman-inspired periodical The Conservator. Anne edited a small collection of Whitman's writings, A Little Book of Nature Thoughts (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1896). After Horace's death, both Anne and Gertrude edited his manuscripts of his conversations with Whitman during the final four years of the poet's life, which eventually became the nine-volume With Walt Whitman in Camden. [back]
  • 4. Horace Traubel married Anne Montgomerie on May 28, 1891 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). After Whitman's birthday celebration on May 31, the couple went to Canada with Richard Maurice Bucke, physician at the Insane Asylum in London, Ontario, and returned to Camden on June 14, 1891. [back]
  • 5. Daniel Longaker (1858–1949) was a Philadelphia physician who specialized in obstetrics. He became Whitman's doctor in early 1891 and provided treatment during the poet's final illness. Carol J. Singley reports that "Longaker enjoyed talking with Whitman about human nature and reflects that Whitman responded as well to their conversations as he did to medical remedies" ("Longaker, Dr. Daniel [1858–1949]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R.LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998]). [back]
  • 6. Whitman is referring to a financial scandal involving the City Treasurer of Philadelphia, John Bardsley. Bardsley was accused of misappropriating and embezzlement of city funds. He was eventually convicted of loaning, speculating, and receiving interest on public funds and was sentenced to a lengthy prison term in July 1891. [back]
  • 7. Whitman is referring to the manuscript for "Walt Whitman's Last" (a one-page piece on his last miscellany Good-Bye My Fancy [1891]), which was published in the August 1891 issue of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine along with "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891" by Horace Traubel. Traubel's article offered a detailed account of Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday, which was celebrated with friends at the poet's home on Mickle street. [back]
  • 8. Joseph Marshall Stoddart (1845–1921) published Stoddart's Encyclopaedia America, established Stoddart's Review in 1880, which was merged with The American in 1882, and became the editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1886. On January 11, 1882, Whitman received an invitation from Stoddart through J. E. Wainer, one of his associates, to dine with Oscar Wilde on January 14 (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 235n). [back]
  • 9. James Russell Lowell (1819–1891) was an American critic, poet and editor of The Atlantic. One of Whitman's famous poetic contemporaries, Lowell was committed to conventional poetic form, which was clearly at odds with Whitman's more experimental form. Still, as editor of the Atlantic Monthly, he published Whitman's "Bardic Symbols," probably at Ralph Waldo Emerson's suggestion. Lowell later wrote a tribute to Abraham Lincoln titled "Commemoration Ode," which has often, since its publication, been contrasted with Whitman's own tribute, "O Captain! My Captain!" For further information on Whitman's views of Lowell, see William A. Pannapacker, "Lowell, James Russell (1819–1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998) [back]
  • 10. Whitman is playfully using a common humorous dialect phrasing of “Good heavens!” The phrase was used by Petroleum V. Nasby, the outrageous character created by the humorist David Ross Locke (1833–1888), in his various collections of Nasby writings. [back]
  • 11. According to a note in Traubel's "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891," published in the August 1891 issue of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, "James Russell Lowell sent his 'felicitations and good wishes' in almost as brief phrase, and sweet also, but at an hour too late to pair with [Alfred, Lord] Tennyson's" (230). [back]
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