Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 24 August 1888

Date: August 24, 1888

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.07224

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.,
24 Aug 1888

I have not written you for some days, do not know how many, press of work still continues and I have not had any thing to say that seemed worth while and in fact have not now. Mrs Bucke2 is home again from Sarnia, I was there over Sunday and Pardee3 is not much better. Willy Gurd4 (the inventor of the meter) came home two days ago—it remains to be proven whether the meter will be a financial success. I suppose you are getting the "Complete Works"5 into shape—in your mind, that is?—Will you not keep the sale of this big book in your own hands? Make it autograph & personal? Have you fixed on the price? I do not think it should be less than $10. I should not look for a large sale but that those who really care for you and your writings should have something substantial and handsome as a perpetual reminder of you, something that they would hand down to their children "bequeathing it as a rich legacy"—Write me a line when you feel to—I do not suppose you care to exert yourself much and I would not have you worry yourself to write me when you do not feel up to it.

I am, my dear friend,
Affectionately yours
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 24 | 88 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N. J. | AUG | 2 [illegible] | 6AM | [illegible] | REC'D; CAMDEN, [illegible] | AU 2 [illegible] 6 [illegible] | REC [illegible]; RECEIVED | AUG | 26 | 7PM | 1888; PHILA. [back]

2. Jessie Maria Gurd (1839–1926) married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]

3. Timothy Blair Pardee (1830–1889) was a Canadian lawyer and politician, member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontaria, Canada, and Minister of the Crown. Pardee appointed Richard Maurice Bucke, with whom he was a close friend, as the Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in Hamilton at its founding in 1876, and then the next year as Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in London. For more on Pardee, see H. V. Nelles, "Pardee, Timothy Blair," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. 11 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982).  [back]

4. 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]

5. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, he made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]


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