Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 8 November 1888

Date: November 8, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07264

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 Nov 10, 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Superintendent's Office.
Asylum for the Insane
London.
Ontario
London, Ont.,1
8 Nov 1888

Nothing further from Wm Gurd.2 So cannot yet fix date of departure. Very dark rainy weather here. All quiet. I cut this piece out of the London Advertiser this morning.3



Walt Whitman, according to the Star of London, has an English cousin, a Miss Whitman, who lives at Putney. She is a handsome girl with large dark eyes, very definite eyebrows, and is about six feet high. She "does a little journalism" and writes a weekly letter for one of the leading New Zealand papers.

Have you ever heard of the said Miss W.? I fancy not. Your card of 5th4 came to hand yesterday and I was glad to see that you seemed satisfied with Wilkins5 appearance. Mighty glad also to find that you hold your grip so well—with your physique you ought to have been a hearty man at 90


R M Bucke


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: Lond [illegible] | PM | NO 8 | 88; Camden | Nov | 10 | 1 PM | 1888> | Rec'd. [back]

2. 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]

3. The clipping is mounted in the letter at this point. Whitman agreed with Bucke that he did not know any "Miss Whitman": "I fancy not, too: I know not" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, November 10, 1888). [back]

4. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of November 5, 1888. [back]

5. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]


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