Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 6 November 1889

Date: November 6, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07324

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.,
6 Nov 18891

Your letter of 4th2 enclosing Mrs Costelloe's3 to hand this afternoon—both letters entirely welcome. I am exceedingly sorry for Mrs Costelloe4 but the fact is the life she went in for (an attempt to carry all London on her back) was simply suicidal. Should she fully recover from this breakdown (as I trust and think she will) she will no doubt be wiser and do better in future. Have just been up at the patient's dance for half an hour—some 400 people in the hall having quite a time—we have a new hall this year nearly twice as big as the old one and only up one stair which is quite an improvement on the old hall (where you were at chapel once) up three flights. Letter from Willy Gurd5 today—nothing in it—does not say a word as to when he will be through and return here. But I guess it is all right and that he will be here soon. Yes, I fear you are dull enough mais, courage mon Ami! Never say die! When the meter turns into money (which may be sooner than we think) I am going to see if I can't do something to cheer you up a little—in the meantime it is grand to see you keep up as well as you do—and actually gaining if any thing as the months pass—we might have some good quiet times together yet if the Lord pleases—and if not? well, we will say "all right any how"

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: Lon[d]on | AM | NO 6 | 89 | Canada. [back]

2. See the letter from Whitman to Bucke of November 4, 1889[back]

3. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about Costelloe, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. With his October 28–29, 1889, letter to Bucke, Whitman had enclosed an October 13, 1889, letter from Robert Pearsall Smith, Mary Costelloe's father, in which Smith informed the poet that his daughter "is under a nervous break-down—not suffering much but compelled to great quiet." [back]

5. 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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