Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 23 December 1888

Date: December 23, 1888

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes 12/26/88," 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.

Notes for this letter were derived from The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977).

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

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07286

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



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Superintendent's Office.
Asylum for the Insane
London.
Ontario
London, Ont.,1
23 Dec 1888

Yours of 20th, dear Walt, came yesterday evening. Yes, I am thoroughly satisfied with the big book2 and more and more (if possible) as I look it over. I think it will stand in future ages as the cheif glory of the nineteenth century.3 Yes, I have no doubt I get all your letters and papers &c also4—I shall be very glad to hear of O'C.5 if you have any thing from there to send me—I fear he is very sick, I wrote him lately a letter that ought to have been answered and I think would have been if he had been able, but it was not—this makes me anxious. No sign of Wm Gurd6 and no further letters from him. No sleighing so far, we have had a few days cold but mild again today—not much of a winter so far. All goes quietly here, we are preparing for Xmas.

What will you have for your Xmas dinner? Roast turkey and plum pudding is the regular thing here but you will hardly be up to that this year. But by new year I am in hopes you will be in pretty fair shape again. The sun is out warm and bright—looks almost like a spring day out doors. From the two far corners of my office (where I am sitting) the 1st & 2d heads7 look down upon me grandly & calmly.

I am, dear Walt, your friend
R M 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 | AM | DE 24 | 88 | Canada; Camden [illegible] | Dec | 2 [illegible] | 6 AM | [illegible] | Rec'd. [back]

2. 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]

3. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, December 26, 1888[back]

4. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of December 20, 1888. [back]

5. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. 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]

7. Bucke is referring to busts of Whitman sculpted by Sidney Morse (1833–1903). [back]


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