Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 20 Feburary 1887

Date: February 20, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: loc.06060

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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 created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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Asylum for the Insane,

20 Feb 18871

Dear Walt

I have your card of 17th2 Have also had a letter from Mrs O'Connor3 telling me about O'C.'s4 exodus to the west. I have just written to her and to O'C. It seems O'C.'s doctors are at present telling Mrs O'C. that the disease is now sclerosis the disease has been Sclerosis all along and how the doctors could have thought otherwise (if they did so think) I cannot imagine. It is pitiable to see the poor fellow at this late hour going for "change of air" as if that could by any possibility do any good in such a case. However it won't do any harm and the change may rouse him up a little for the time. He may go on living for months (even quite a few years) yet and the great thing of course is to save him all the suffering (mental & bodily) possible. All quiet here—Country all grown solid again—splendid wheeling smooth hard roads—cloudy weather—All well here we have just had a good dinner—roast turkey, bread sauce & apple pie—What more could one ask for? We are all looking forward to seeing you here by & by—if the lecture5 comes off Mrs B.6 will go with me to New York after you and surely we can bring you home comfortably between us—I have just written to Johnston7 too about the lecture we want to find out what they are thinking about in New York I guess it will be all right—they surely will not let the chance go by after Phila8 letting them send a good example last year—I wonder when they are going to mind your hospital article in the Century?9

Goodbye—we all send love to you
R M Bucke

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 | AM | Fe [illegible] 2 [illegible] | 87 | Canada; [illegible] | [illegible] | 22 | 2 PM | 1887 | Rec'd. The verso to this envelope is stamped: Insane Asylum London Ontario. [back]

2. This letter is evidently lost. [back]

3. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor. Walt may have mentioned a potential visit by Nelly and her daughter during his May visit to Brooklyn, though whether a visit came near this time is not known from his or Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letters. Walt Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years, and he spoke often in his letters of their daughter Jean (called "Jenny" or "Jeannie"). Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over a disagreement about Reconstruction policies and the role of emancipated slaves, Nelly would remain friendly with Whitman. [back]

4. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. 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]

5. This is referring to Whitman's Lincoln lecture, which he would deliver in New York on April 15, 1887. The lecture was a tremendous success, and Whitman was so showered with adulation that he observed in the Commonplace Book: "If I had staid longer, I sh'd have been killed with kindness & compliments" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

6. Likely a reference to Jessie Gurd Bucke (1839–1926), Richard Maurice Bucke's wife. [back]

7. John H. Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler and close friend of Whitman. [back]

8. Whitman had delivered his Lincoln lecture in Philadelphia at the Chestnut Street Opera House on April 15, 1886. [back]

9. "Army Hospitals and Cases: Memoranda at the Time, 1863–66" was printed in The Century in October of 1888. It was later reprinted in Whitman's November Boughs[back]


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