Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 9 November 1890

Date: November 9, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07123

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 The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes feb 14 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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

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Insane Asylum
London Ontario
9 Nov 1890

A thousand thanks to you, dear Walt, for the autographs in the books which Horace2 took east,3 and for the good bundle of autographed portraits, for the clay tablet4 and for the "Specimen Days"5 with the good inscription and the little autograph notes which will make it one of the most precious volumes in my W.W. Collection.

I feel richer than ever now that I have my "Leaves" all back again and these treasures added to them and I shall not soon forget Horaces kindness in attending to all this for me—as for you dear Walt I cannot thank you enough for these and for all your other kindnesses.

We have had some glorious "Indian Summer" days this past week but now it is dark, dark, and blowing and raining like all possessed—but I sit here in my good, warm, comfortable office, the work of the morning done and defy satan and the elements.

What is this other piece of yours6 that is to come out soon, Walt? It is something about American poets is it not? And what do you think of my suggestion to write some autobiographical notes, jottings? The more I think of it the more I am persuaded it is the thing for you to do

So long! Love to you
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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: London | AM | NO [illegible] | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Nov | 11 | 3PM | 1890 | Rec'd; Rec [illegible] | Nov | 1 [illegible] | 1130 AM | Phila. [back]

2. 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 late 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]

3. When Traubel returned to Camden from a trip to London, Ontario, Canada, he brought with him a number of volumes from Bucke's Whitman collection to be inscribed by the poet. On November 9, 1890, Bucke wrote Traubel: "The valise reached London yesterday morning, I went in, passed it through the customs and brought it out. I was and am much elated at its contents—all the books duly autographed and many presents over and above—you and dear old Walt have treated me in a princely manner." Some if not all of these volumes were inscribed by Whitman on October 31, 1890. See the Catalogue of important letters, manuscripts and books by or relating to Walt Whitman (Sotheby & Co., 1935). [back]

4. Bucke may be referring to one of several reliefs of Whitman by Sidney H. Morse, sculpted in clay and cast in plaster. [back]

5. The first issue of Whitman's Specimen Days and Collect was published by the Philadelphia firm of Rees Welsh and Company in 1882. The second issue was published by David McKay. Many of the autobiographical notes, sketches, and essays that focus on the poet's life during and beyond the Civil War had been previously published in periodicals or in Memoranda During the War (1875–1876). For more information on Specimen Days, see George Hutchinson and David Drews "Specimen Days [1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Bucke is inquiring about Whitman's essay "Have We a National Literature?," which was published in The North American Review 125 (March 1891), 332–338. [back]


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