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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 24 April 1891


Your letter of 21st2 came to hand last evening. I was much rejoiced to see by it that you were suffering less—thank goodness for that, anyhow! Thank you also for the printed piece enclosed "old actors &c,"3 I read it with great interest and pleasure.

I have not written for some days—day before yesterday I was very sick (feverish loc_zs.00374.jpg bilious attack—headache, nausea, great depression—I took some medicine (something I very seldom do)—yesterday I was better but weak, today I am comparatively well. The foot4 is steadily healing and I guess will be well in a few more days. My heart has not been up to par this winter (since the upset last fall, the dislocation in Dec.5 & the grip in Jan.) Still I can not see that anything serious is the matter and I look to be all right again after I get a change and some sea air (nothing ever seems to do me as much good as the sea)—this last year or more (since the grip first visited me) has been a bad time loc_zs.00375.jpg for sickness and I guess the death rate in America has never been higher than within the last few months6—but as you say: "I guess it is all right anyhow." I hope to be around as usual next week—Shall kind of half lay up still, I guess, tomorrow and Sunday

Yours as always R M Bucke  loc_zs.00376.jpg see notes April 27 1891  loc_zs.00377.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 | AP 24 | 91 | CANADA.; CAMDEN, N.J. | APR | 27 | 6AM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of April 21, 1891. [back]
  • 3. In his letter to Bucke of March 30–31, 1891, Whitman writes that he sent his essay "Old Actors, Singers, Shows, &c., in New York" to Truth, a periodical in which his poem "Old Chants" was published on March 19, 1891. Whitman told Horace Traubel that he had asked for $16 in payment for the essay and had indicated that he wanted the piece to appear in print the following week (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, March 24, 1891). After a delay of several weeks, Traubel recorded that a version of the piece had "at last appeared" in Truth, where it filled only a single column (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, April 30, 1891). Whitman seems to have sent Bucke a printed copy of the essay as it appeared in Truth. [back]
  • 4. In his April 13, 1891, letter to Whitman, Bucke writes that his foot, which had been sore for a couple of weeks, had become inflamed. He goes on to note that he was "confined" in his room while his foot was "mending." [back]
  • 5. Bucke described this accident in a December 25, 1890, letter to Whitman's disciple and biographer Horace Traubel: "I had a fall last evening and dislocated my left shoulder (it was the right arm last time, three months ago)." This letter is held in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. It is reprinted in Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, December 27, 1890. [back]
  • 6. The last great pandemic of the nineteenth century—the 1889–1890 flu pandemic (also referred to as the "Russian flu" or "Asiatic flu")—killed around a million people worldwide. There were recurrences of the illness in the spring and early summer of 1891 (March to June), and in the following winter, spring, and early summer (November 1891 to June 1892). [back]
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