Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 29 October 1889

Date: October 29, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07321

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, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Superintendent's Office.
for the Insane
London, Ont.,
29 Oct 1889

I have yours of Saturday and Sunday with enclosures—I like the "71st Year"1 very much—am glad to have Arnold's sonnet2 and E. Gosse on Tennyson's "Throstle"3—I have not seen Ed. Wilkins4 yet, nor (of course) got the photo's5—he is to be here this afternoon or evening I believe. Nothing new from Willy Gurd.6 I expect to go to Guelph (Ont.) tomorrow to give evidence on a murder trial (whether the homicide is sane or not). I lectured to students 2½ hours yesterday afternoon. We are all well—The poor P. of Wales seems from the reports to be very ill—looks as if he would never ascend the throne

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 is referring to Whitman's poem "My 71st Year," which was first published in the November 1889 issue of the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. In his letter of October 26–27, 1889 Whitman sent Bucke a reprint of the poem with corrections. [back]

2. Bucke is referring to the English poet and journalist Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904). The sonnet is unidentified. [back]

3. "Throstle" was a parody of Tennyson by the English poet and author Edmund Gosse (1849–1928). Whitman mentions "Throstle" in his letters to Bucke of October 23, 1889, October 27–28, 1889, and October 31, 1889[back]

4. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

5. See Whitman's October 21, 1889 letter to Bucke in which the poet states that Wilkins would soon be delivering a package of portraits to Bucke. In his letter to Whitman of October 30, 1889, Bucke reports that Wilkins visited him and brought the photographs the previous evening, October 29, 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]


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