Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 15 June 1888

Date: June 15, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07212

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: Jeannette Schollaert, Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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Superintendent's Office.1
London, Ont.,
15 June 1888

Since reaching home Wednesday evening I have had my hands pretty full and have still enough to keep me out of mischeif. The accounts from Pardee2 in Sarnia are not very good and I shall go there tomorrow evening to have a look at him. I have heard nothing yet from Harned3 or Trauble4 since I left Camden but there has hardly been time—hope to get a card this evening—I have found time to write the circular5 and give it to the printer, I will send you a proof early in the week—but mind you are not supposed to see it however you may as well and perhaps you would suggest a verbal change or two—if you feel like it do so.

If we get plenty of money (as I confidently hope) as a result of this circular it may be that you would not care to issue the $5. book, as we spoke of, but that is a matter to consider later. Our grounds here are perfectly lovely. I wish I could drive you about them—the weather is charming here—I have in front of me, on my desk, here in my office an enormous bouquet of snowballs, peonies, sweet flag &c

Love to you
RM Bucke

I have gone through "A Backward Glance"6 and think it by far the most valuable of all the explanatory pieces you have written. My opinion (not that it is worth any thing) is that this book of yours ought to have a sale and I think it should be published at a quite reasonable price—say $1. or $1.25 to encourage this—if it should sell it would no doubt introduce many new people to L.of G.

Mail in—no word from Camden. I hope you are not worse


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 | PM | JU 15 | 88 | CANADA; RECEIVED | JUN | 17 | 730PM | 1888 | PHILA; CAMDEN, N.J. | Jun | 18 | 6AM | 88 | REC'D. [back]

2. Timothy Blair Pardee (1830–1889) was a Canadian lawyer and politician, member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontaria, Canada, and Minister of the Crown. Pardee appointed Richard Maurice Bucke, with whom he was a close friend, as the Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in Hamilton at its founding in 1876, and then the next year as Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in London. For more on Pardee, see H. V. Nelles, "Pardee, Timothy Blair," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. 11 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982). [back]

3. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel, was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. 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]

5. Bucke was writing a circular soliciting funds to pay for a live-in nurse for Whitman; Whitman strongly disapproved of this effort. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, June 18, 1888[back]

6. Whitman on December 21, 1883, sent "A Backward Glance on My Own Road" to The North American Review and asked $40; it was returned. He then sent the piece to The Critic on December 27 and requested $12, and it was printed on January 5, 1884 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). When the magazine failed to send, as requested, copies of the article to Dowden, Symonds, Schmidt, Rolleston, and O'Connor, Whitman sent them himself on January 9 or thereabouts (Commonplace Book). The article was later incorporated into "A Backward Glance o'er Travel'd Roads" (November Boughs [1888], 5–18). [back]


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