Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 4 June 1889

Date: June 4, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07307

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 notes: The annotation, "last f'm Dr Bucke," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "see notes June 6, 89," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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.,
4 June 18891

I have look through and through the little book,2 turned evey leaf and glanced at every page,3 read the little new note added, verified the latest connections and like the creator when he surveyed his new made world I find it all "very good." In fact I think it a perfect book,4 the very quintessence of a delightful volume. This morning came your letter of 1 June5 giving me just what I particularly wanted a glimpse of the great dinner and the assurance that it was (as I supposed it would be) a complete success. The main thing now (for me) is to get all the newspaper accounts of it that I can and (as said before) I trust largely to you & Horace6 for this. All quiet here, very much occupied, no word about meter7 for some time but have no doubt it is forging ahead. I trust that it will take me East in the course of the year so that I may see you

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: [illegible] | [illegible] | [illegible] | 89 | Canada; Ca [illegible] .J. | [illegible] | [illegible] | 8 AM | [illegible] | Rec'd; [illegible] | 25 | 1 PM. [back]

2. Whitman had a limited pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass printed in honor of his 70th birthday, on May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]

3. Bucke's copy of the 1889 pocket edition of Leaves of Grass is described in the Sotheby & Co (1935) and the American Art Association (1936) auction catalogues of his Whitman collection. The item is numbered 11 and 294, respectively. [back]

4. Whitman discusses Bucke's comments on the pocket edition with Horace Traubel; see With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, June 6, 1889[back]

5. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of June 1, 1889[back]

6. 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 late 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]

7. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]


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