Life & Letters


About this Item

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

Date: September 27, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07248

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 note Sept 29, 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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

page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4

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

The fair still goes on. I hear in the hall outside my door the steady tramp and chatter of some dozens of men and women. Weather not so good rainy last evening and cloudy and cold this morning. The Inspector is to be here in a day or two (perhaps today) then things will be livelier than ever—he calls the roll when he comes this time, i.e. sees every patient individually. Nothing new in re meter,2 we are expecting a man from Montreal every day who will probably go in with us. If he decides to do so we shall be in a position to move. At present we need a little capital and cannot get on without it.

We are all well and hearty, Mrs B.3 took all the children to the fair yesterday, they had quite a time—for my part I quit going to fairs some years ago.

I am reading Past & Present4— funny, isn't it, to see a man of the 19th century who thinks better of the monastic feudal life of 12th century than of the industrial life of today? And by his own showing they must have been a bad lot those monks and knights—and see Froude's5 Henry VIII especially as to the monks!

I6 hope you are having at least a tolerable time of it & are getting on with the books7.

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 | SP 27 | 88 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | SEP | 29 | 1PM | 18 [illegible] | REC'D. [back]

2. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]

3. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]

4. Bucke is referring to Thomas Carlyle's book, published in 1843. [back]

5. James Anthony Froude (1818–1894) was an English historian, biographer, and editor of Fraser's Magazine. Froude was also a close friend and literary executor to Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), after whose death Froude published a biography entitled Life of Carlyle, which described Carlyle's intellectual accomplishments as well as his personal failings, in particular his unhappy relationship with his wife, Jane Welsh. Froude had previously published Jane's writings in Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle in 1883 to much protest from Carlyle's surviving family, and his biography of Carlyle emphasized his conflicted marriage for contemporary readers. For more on Froude, see Ciarán Brady, James Anthony Froude: An Intellectual Biography of a Victorian Prophet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). [back]

6. The letter continues at the top of the first page. [back]

7. Bucke has been advising Whitman about the preparation of November Boughs (1888) and Complete Poems & Prose (1888). [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.