Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 10 May 1889

Date: May 10, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07299

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.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Caterina Bernardini, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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Superintendent's Office.
for the Insane
London, Ont.,
10 May 1889

Although you did not enclose Mrs O'C's1 card with yours of 8th2 (you have probably seen the card lying about since you sent the letter) yet I judge from the tenor of what you say that your O'C.3 is very sick. You will feel bad about it I know and it is very natural you should still it is my decided conviction that we shall be all better off went we get out of our present state than we are at present. And though I would gladly see O'Connor well yet (that being out of the question, I fear) the next best thing I think will be for him to leave us. Poor fellow! it will only be a very little while untill we rejoin him and we will settle then whether the whole thing was or was not well planned! I am glad to hear that they are looking up a chair4 for you.5 If (having a chair) you were living in a cottage with a lawn, trees &c &c. and living on the ground floor (as might all be arranged well enough) there is no reason why you should not spend a good part of your time during the summer in your chair on the grass, under the trees, among the flowers. You are not tied to one house (and that about the worst house and the worst situated that could be found for you) and there is no reason at all why you should not go where you would have the surroundings you need.6 Why not get Horace7 to look about for a good cottage for you? I hope to see you before a very great while

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. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. On May 8, 1889, Whitman wrote Bucke: "The word from O'C is bad as you can see by the enclosed card—in some respects the worst yet—I am feeling badly depress'd ab't it to-day as you may think." Whitman might have intended to send the postal card from Ellen O'Connor dated April 30, 1889. It is the only extant correspondence from Ellen before she wrote the poet of her husband's death on May 9, 1889[back]

3. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

5. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, May 6, 1889; Tuesday, May 7, 1889; and Saturday, May 11, 1889[back]

6. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 14, 1889[back]

7. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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