Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 12 May 1889

Date: May 12, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07300

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 created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

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.,
12 May 1889

It is a perfect Spring day. Bright and not too warm. I have been out about the garden and grounds nearly all day a good part of the day your old friend Norman Mackenzie1 was with me (he is spending the Sunday here—is on his way home from Toronto—been there for his "2d intermediate" law examination—which he passed—he has now studied law 3 years and has 2 more to study). Norman and I had a good deal to talk about you Norman says he remembers you and all you did and said (when he knew you in '80—he being then 12 years old) as well as if it was only a week ago.2 He3 remarked that there must be something extraordinary about you to cause you to be remembered in this persistent manner. He is a very fine boy and greatly liked.

Your card of 9th came to hand yesterday4—I hope you will send me word (as you get it) about O'C.,5 poor fellow I fear he is very sick.6 I hope he is not suffering much. We must make up our minds to lose him, I do trust however he will not have much pain or suffering to bear. I hope you have been out in your chair.7 If you could only get out once or twice a day for a short time surely it would be a wonderful relief to you from the dreadful monotony of your life the last eleven months. Be sure and let me know how you get on with the chair.

Always your friend
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. Norman McKenzie was a high school student in Sarnia. Whitman undoubtedly met the boy when he visited a public school in Sarnia (Walt Whitman's Diary in Canada, ed. William Sloane Kennedy [Boston: Small, Maynard, 1904], 8–9); probably McKenzie accompanied the poet on "A Moonlight Excursion up Lake Huron" (7–8). [back]

2. Bucke has made an "X" with an insertion mark in red at this point in the letter. It refers to an addition written at the bottom of the page. The addition: "He remarked that there must be something extraordinary about you to cause you to be remembered in this persistent manner" has been transcribed here, in the body of the letter, where Bucke intended to include it. [back]

3. See McKenzie's letter to Whitman of June 29, 1880. Whitman spells the young man's surname "McKenzie." Bucke spells it "MacKenzie." [back]

4. Bucke is referring to Whitman's letter of May 9, 1889[back]

5. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. 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]

6. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of May 9, 1889[back]

7. 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]


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