Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 2 September 1890

Date: September 2, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07110

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.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Superintendent's Office.
London, Ont.,
2 Sept 1890

I have yours of 28th and 29th1 it came yesterday but was too much occupied to write. I got the paper you sent with the O.W. Holmes,2 "Atlantic Monthly" piece,3 but the paper did not have all there was abt you in the article. You should get the "A.M." itself.

O.W. is to all intents and purposes an Englishman (and a very good specimen too) Such a book as L.of G. and the mentality that goes with such a book is as far as possible from his ideal. The haughty, arrogant, masterful spirit of the poem evidently repells him, while the insouciant freedom of L. of G. (perhaps the greatest charm of all) has no attraction for him—I guess he likes books just as well as nature but would rather be in the house than outdoors (in all senses).

The Rejoinder slip4 came in your last—I have read it again—of course you have said it all before (and more than once) but the children have not learned the lesson yet and there is no harm (even need) to repeat.

Beautiful Autumn weather here—warm or cool days and cool to cold nights, good for sleeping!

The meter5 jogs on slowly. No one could imagine, unless they were mixed up in and had to do with it, the work there is in starting a new industry such as this—I fancy now that we shall do very little this year except get going—but after we get going I fancy we shall go lively

Love to you as always
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. See Whitman's August 28–29, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

2. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809–1894) was a Bostonian author, physician, and lecturer. One of the Fireside Poets, he was a good friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as John Burroughs. Holmes remained ambivalent about Whitman's poetry. He married Amelia Lee Jackson in 1840 and they had three children, including the later Supreme Court judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. For more information, see Julie A. Rechel-White, "Holmes, Oliver Wendell (1809–1894)," (Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, eds. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 280). [back]

3. The article that Bucke mentions having received from Whitman is the following: Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Over the Teacups. X." Atlantic Monthly 66 (September 1890), 388–390. [back]

4. "An Old Man's Rejoinder" was published in The Critic 17 (August 16, 1890), 85–86. The "Rejoinder" was later reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) (see Prose Works 1892, Volume 2: Collect and Other Prose, ed. Floyd Stovall [New York: New York University Press, 1964], 655–658). [back]

5. 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]


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