Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 25 August 1888

Date: August 25, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07225

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 Aug. 27, 1888.," 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.,
25 Aug 1888

I was glad last evening to get a card from you dated 22d. I wish I could see you to have a real good talk with you about the "Complete Works,"2 I have a feeling that there is a chance to do something really worth while, something quite in the monumental style in the care of this vol. I should like to see it—what it might easily be—something unique & special. I trust you will give it full consideration before taking any actual steps. The "Nov. Boughs"3 I think decidedly should be published at a low figure and it should contain a full advertisement of the "C.W."—be a sort of avant courier of these. I will not trouble you by repeating all I have said in former letters on this subject but leave it now to your serious consideration.

Today John Nesbit4 comes down and he, Willy Gurd5 & myself will have a consultation re the meter. The meter is the great thing with us here just now and will be until it is put into some kind of shape—something definitely settled about it.

We are all well.

I send my 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 | PM | AU 25 | 88 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | AUG | 2 [illegible] | [illegible]AM | [illegible] | REC'D. [back]

2. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]

3. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. John Nesbit was a partner with Bucke and Gurd in the marketing of the gas and fluid meter; see Bucke's letter to Whitman of August 28, 1888[back]

5. 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]


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