Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 20 September 1889

Date: September 20, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07316

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 The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

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

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Superintendent's Office.
for the Insane
London, Ont.,1
20 Sept 1889

Your card of 18th2 reached me at 4 this P.M. The "Liberty" with Horace's3 O'C.4 piece5 came at 10 this morning—they are both welcome—With us too it is getting like fall—a fire has looked and felt comfortable the last 3 days. No word lately from Willy Gurd,6 do not look for him here for some weeks yet. My annual report is on again, shall make it short this year (between you & me—I am not saying any thing about this but thinking of it a good deal—I rather hope this may be my last—if we are not entirely deceived about the meter I shall have other—pleasanter and more profitable—work to do in the immediate future). I note what you say about not feeling very well,7 I fear you do not—still, on the whole, you are sticking it out well and have even gained quite a bit in the last 9 months—I have great hopes that you may have some comfort in your life yet—and beyond—beyond? yes, we shall have good times yet—the old times were good but the new times shall be better.

I wish I could see you—hope I shall before a very great while—meantime that last photo'8 is almost equal to the real article itself

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 | SP 21 | 89 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Sep | 22 | 6 AM | 1889 | Rec'd; NY | [illegible] | 8. [back]

2. See Whitman's September 18, 1889, postal card to Bucke. [back]

3. 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]

4. 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]

5. Traubel's article, "W.D. O'Connor of Massachusetts," appeared in Liberty on September 7,1889. [back]

6. 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]

7. See Whitman's September 18, 1889, letter to Bucke. [back]

8. Bucke is referring to this photograph, which was taken by Frederick Gutekunst in Philadelphia in 1889. [back]


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