Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard M. Bucke to Walt Whitman, 5 September 1889

Date: September 5, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: hun.00060

Source: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. 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.

Related item: On the back of this letter, Whitman drafted the poem "A Twilight Song."

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Caterina Bernardini, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

page image
image 1
page image
image 2

Superintendent's Office.
Asylum for the Insane
London, Ont.,
5 Sept 1889

Your card of 2d1 came to hand last evening. That you are feeling even "middling" well and that you are in a condition to be "sort of busy" is good news. Putting Dick's2 account of you any your own together I conclude that you are really wonderfull well "considering." You must be quite a little better than you were this time last year and I do not now see why you should not still gain. Begins to look here as if something might be done very shortly in the way of getting the meter started.3 We are all well and there is no news since I wrote last

Love to you
RM Bucke

I do not understand why Horace's dinner4 book5 does not come—thought it was to be along in Aug.6


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. Bucke is referring to Whitman's letter of September 2, 1889[back]

2. Whitman mentions Dick Flynn in his October 14, 1880 letter to Thomas Nicholson. Like Nicholson, Flynn was an employee at Bucke's asylum. Traubel also records that Whitman was anticipating a visit from Flynn shortly before Bucke wrote this letter (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, August 27, 1889). [back]

3. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]

4. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

5. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in Camden, on May 31, 1889, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]

6. This postscript appears in the upper-left corner of the first page of the letter; it has been written vertically and in red pen. [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.