Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 27 July 1888

Date: July 27, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07217

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes July 29, '88," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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Superintendent's Office.1
London, Ont.,
27 July 1888

I was heartily glad to get this morning your note of 25th with its' three encolsures, the notes from Miss Bates,2 Rhys,3 and Sadakitchi.4 I have proofs continuously to p.104 and shall hope to soon get the E.H & Fox pieces.5 I wish the Hospital piece which the Century has6 could go in the book too but we should have to wait too long for that I fear? I do wish I could hear that you were gaining strength, you are certainly better mentally and from what I hear you eat better and are better in yourself. There must have been some little extension of the paralisis to make you helpless in the legs—I still hope however. You have undoubtedly gained some and I do not see why you should not gain more—we must have patience and not give up.

Willy Gurd7 is to be home in a month with his meter done. I may have to go East on that business after he comes and stays here for a rest so I look forward to seeing you again before very long. By that time Osler8 will be back and we can have some talk—but I do not look for medicine to do much for you except at a pinch—it might tide you over

Your loving friend
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 | PM | JY 27 | 88 | CANADA. [back]

2. Redelia Bates (1842–1943) was a female suffrage lecturer from St. Louis who married American socialist Albert Brisbane. After his death, she edited and published his autobiography. [back]

3. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Carl Sadakichi Hartmann (ca. 1867–1944) was an art historian and early critic of photography as an art form. He visited Whitman in Camden in the 1880s and published his conversations with the poet in 1895. Generally unpopular with other supporters of the poet, he was known during his years in Greenwich Village as the "King of Bohemia." For more information about Hartmann, see John F. Roche, "Hartmann, C. Sadakichi (ca. 1867–1944)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Whitman was having friends help him read proofs for November Boughs; the last two pieces in the book were essays on the Quakers Elias Hicks (1748–1830) and George Fox (1624–1691). For more on its publication and reception, see November Boughs [1888][back]

6. Bucke is not aware that Whitman's "Last of the War Cases" was already a part of November Boughs, as he would discover when he received the rest of the page proofs. This essay was a revised version of "Army Hospitals and Cases: Memoranda at the Time, 1863–66," which appeared in Century Magazine in October 1888. [back]

7. William John Gurd (1845–1903) was Richard Maurice Bucke's brother-in-law, with whom he was designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. Bucke believed the meter would be worth "millions of dollars," while Whitman remained skeptical, sometimes to Bucke's annoyance. In a March 18, 1888, letter to William D. O'Connor, Whitman wrote, "The practical outset of the meter enterprise collapsed at the last moment for the want of capital investors." For additional information, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 17, 1889, Monday, March 18, 1889, Friday, March 22, 1889, and Wednesday, April 3, 1889. [back]

8. Sir William Osler (1849–1919) was a Canadian physician and one of the four founding staff members of Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he served as the first Chief of Medicine. Richard Maurice Bucke introduced Osler to Whitman in 1885 in order to care for the aging poet. Osler wrote a manuscript about his personal and professional relationship with Whitman in 1919; see Philip W. Leon, Walt Whitman and Sir William Osler: A Poet and His Physician [Toronto: ECW Press, 1995]). For more on Osler, see Philip W. Leon, "Osler, Dr. William (1849–1919)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on the relationship of Osler and Whitman, see Michael Bliss, William Osler: A Life in Medicine (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999). [back]


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