Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 21 October 1888

Date: October 21, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07257

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 Oct 23, 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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

Superintendent's Office1
London, Ont.,
21 Oct. 1888

I am reading Cooper's "Leatherstocking Tales"2 over again—have not looked at them for at least 25 years—did not think they were so genuine and good as I find them now to be. We had no clergiman this morning and I have just come in from officiating—reading prayers, bible, sermon &c. Since coming from chapel I have spent half an hour (as I often do) running over "November Boughs"3 "The Voice of the Rain," for instance, one of the most exquisite parables in the English, or any other language. "Robert Burns," I think, a marvellous piece of criticism. "Last of the War Cases" one of your most touching pieces, and so on turning the leaves and thinking and dreaming.

I thought that by this time I should have been able to say something definite about my jaunt east, but I cannot. Wm Gurd4 has been in N.Y. since Tuesday morning. but so far I have heard no word from him—I fear something is wrong but cannot think what it is—probably it is nothing serious and when I do hear in a few days more the hitch may have been then got over. I still hope I may leave here say about two weeks from tomorrow (it may possibly be sooner) but I cannot tell whether I shall go direct to Philadelphia or to N.Y. first.

Our wet weather still continues, it has rained nearly every day since Sept. 26—the last few days snow with the rain so that the ground has been white at times I look for a fine long "Indian Summer" after all this wet, raw, and cold weather.

The "Complete Works"5 takes time, a lot of time, but that is all right—take time—enough of it, and have it right—it is worth taking pains about—it will be a standard book for many a day—to many and many it will be a sacred, an altogether priceless volume—a bible of the bibles—a resumé of them all.


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 | OC 22 | 88 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | OCT | 23 | 1PM | 1888 | REC'D. [back]

2. The Leatherstocking Tales consist of five novels featuring the fictional frontiersman Natty Bumppo, written by James Fenimore Cooper and published between 1827 and 1841. [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. 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]

5. Bucke is referring to the book by Whitman that would be published in December 1888 with the title of Complete Poems & Prose[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.