Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 29 October 1890

Date: October 29, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07121

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

page image
image 1
page image
image 2

Insane Asylum
London Ontario
29 Oct. 1890

Horace1 has gone and I shall (do) miss him much—he is a thoroughly good fellow.2 We took him in to the 11.30 train this A.M. and he ought to reach Phila at 7 A.M. tomorrow. His visit was far too short but we had a good time while it lasted—Make him tell you about our drive to Delaware yesterday—Horace, Dr. Sippi,3 P.E. Bucke4 and Self—we had a grand time. On our way to the station this morning I got from you a card (27th I guess)5—tell Horace I have not seen the Whitman piece mentoned in it6 and ask him to send it me—unless you send it yourself. Horace will tell you how we all are and what we are doing here. I have your card of 26th7 and Phila Press of same date (thanks for it) the little piece in it—"Whitman—Ingersoll8—Death"9 might have been worse—but it also might have been a good deal better without being anything wonderful. Send and get "Brief for Plaintiff" Bacon vs. Shakespeare. 25e Rand & McNally Chicago.10

Love to you always
RM 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. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Following a lecture event in honor of Whitman at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall on October 21, 1890, Horace Traubel had traveled to Canada with Bucke. [back]

3. Dr. Charles Sippi (1843–1947) was the bursar at the asylum where Bucke worked. [back]

4. Bucke's son, Edward Pardee Bucke (1875–1913). Bucke usually referred to his son as "Pardee," and reversed his son's initials (the "E" and "P" are reversed). [back]

5. See Whitman's postal card of October 27, 1890 [back]

6. In his postal card of October 27, 1890, Whitman mentions that the businessman Harrison Morris brought "The American" from the 25th with a piece "Walt Wh: & Ingersoll." [back]

7. See Whitman's postal card of October 26, 1890[back]

8. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

9. This article recounted the discussion about religion and death that Ingersoll and Whitman engaged in at the dinner in the Lafayette Hotel after Ingersoll's address in Horticultural Hall in Philadelphia to benefit Whitman on October 21, 1890. [back]

10. Bucke is referring to Edwin Reed, Brief for Plaintiff. Bacon vs. Shakespeare (Chicago: Rand, McNally & Co., 1890). [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.