Life & Letters


About this Item

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

Date: August 4, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07312

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.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Alex Ashland, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Superintendent's Office.
for the Insane
London, Ont.,
4 Aug 1889

"All quiet on the Potomac"1 a real nice day—cloudy, not hot, no wind, a sleepy day

No word from any one since I wrote last. Nothing new here: Spent the morning writing a batch of letters (11 foolscap pp. of them) to the Inspector on various subjects. Have just been to Catholic service in our little Asylum chapel. I ought to hear something pretty decisive about the meter this week but I never can be sure when any thing is going to happen or be done in that matter—Willy Gurd2 has no time sense

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. Bucke intends to quote the first line of the poem "The Picket Guard" by Ethel Lynn Beers: "All quiet along the Potomac to-night!" The poem was first published in Harper's Weekly on November 30, 1861. John Hill Hewitt later set the poem to music; Hewitt's song also takes as its title the first line of the poem. [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]


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