Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 8 August 1888

Date: August 8, 1888

Editorial notes: The annotation, "R.M. Bucke," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "See notes Aug 10-1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07220

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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Superintendent's Office.1
ASYLUM FOR THE INSANE
LONDON.
ONTARIO
London, Ont.,
8 Aug 1888

The Hospital notes "Last of the war cases"2 are intensely interesting—especially the extracts from the Letters to your mother—I should greatly like to read the whole letters3 and shall ask you to let me see them next time I am East. Traubel4 gives me somewhat better accounts of your health—I guess you have had some pretty hot weather—it is and has been warm even here but not disagreeably so—you will recollect that I have proofs to 1175—my old friend (and yours) Jack Harkness6 (you will recollect him at Kingston and down the St Laurence and up the Saguenay?) will be here today for a little visit. All goes well with us here, we all keep well. I think I told you that Willy Gurd7 had finished his meter. If we have luck we shall make some money out of it.

A charming bright, breezy day warm but not too hot

Best love to you,
RM Bucke


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey | U.S.A. It is postmarked: LONDON | PM | AU 8 | 88 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | AUG | 10 | 6AM | [illegible] | REC'D. [back]

2. Bucke is reading proofs of Whitman's November Boughs; "Last of the War Cases" appears on pp. 109–117. [back]

3. Bucke eventually edited a collection of Whitman's letters to his mother (The Wound Dresser: A Series of Letters Written from the Hospitals in Washington During the War of the Rebellion [1898]). [back]

4. 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 mid-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]

5. Whitman was at this time reading proofs for November Boughs and asking friends to read them as well. [back]

6. John "Jack" Harkness (1841–1916) was a friend and colleague of Richard Maurice Bucke, with whom he attended McGill University's Medical School until 1862. [back]

7. William John Gurd (1845–1903) was Richard Maurice Bucke's brother-in-law, with whom he was designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. Bucke believed the meter would be worth "millions of dollars," while Whitman remained skeptical, sometimes to Bucke's annoyance. In a March 18, 1888, letter to William D. O'Connor, Whitman wrote, "The practical outset of the meter enterprise collapsed at the last moment for the want of capital investors." For additional information, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 17, 1889, Monday, March 18, 1889, Friday, March 22, 1889, and Wednesday, April 3, 1889.  [back]


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