Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 2 December 1888

Date: December 2, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07275

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.

Notes for this letter were derived from The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes Dec. 6 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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Superintendent's Office.
London, Ont.,1
2 Dec 1888

It is a stupid, dull, dark, sulky day—ground white with snow but nothing approaching sleighing. A mixture of mud & snow (the worst possible mixture). But I have a good fire in my office, have just had a good dinner of roast turkey and potatoes boiled in their jackets, (which is the only way a potato should ever be cooked), and have a very middling book to read (Obiter Dicta, 2d Series, Augustine Birrell),2 so I feel that I can defy the Pope the Devil and the Pretender—(an old expression of my father's). In fact I am feeling first rate "and hope these few lines will find you enjoying the same blessing"—seriously I trust all is going well with you—and with the big book3—I hope to get my unbound copy of that early this week. There is nothing further from Gurd4 and I feel my patience wearing thin again—all quiet and going well at the asylum—it is a year today since our fire—hope it will be a good many untill the next—I had a proof5 of my report from Toronto last week to correct it will not be published untill the house meets abt 10th January, shall send it to you then—it is quite elaborate—Remember me to Mrs Davis6 and Ed. Wilkins7

Love to you
R M 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 | AM | DE 3 | 88 | Canada; Camden [illegible] | DEC | [illegible] | [illegible] | [illegible] | [illegible]. [back]

2. Bucke is referring to Hon. Augustine Birrell, Obiter Dicta: Second Series (London: Elliot Stock, 1887). [back]

3. Bucke is referring to the book by Whitman that would be published in December 1888 with the title of Complete Poems & Prose[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 crossed out "copy" and wrote "proof" in red ink. [back]

6. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. 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. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. 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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