Life & Letters


About this Item

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

Date: December 20, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07327

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.,
20 Dec 18891

It is 2.20 P.M. I am writing at the desk in my office. It is so dark that I almost need the gas to see to write. Outside the rain pours down, the sky is a dark leaden gray. This kind of thing has gone on for about two weeks now and is getting a little monotonous. The bundle of ad's2 came this morning, I shall send them to friends as I write. Do you read R.L. Stevenson?3 If so get the "Master of Ballantrae,"4 I am in the middle of it, it is first rate—a regular Xmas story lots of adventure and old-fashioned hair breadth escapes. Willy Gurd5 is not home yet and no word of him, I expect him almost every train now. Mrs. B6 is still in Detroit, will probably return home tomorrow. We are having 4 evenings a week amusements at the Asylum—one lecture each week among them. It keeps us all going I am in the middle of getting new scenery for our new amusement hall. When it is done we shall have as good a drop curtain and as good scenery as in the Opera House in London here! Have just heard from Willy Gurd (mail just in) he will not be home to Xmas, is in N.Y. submitting the meter to the N.Y. gas co. I do not know what he expects to come of this—he will likely be home before New Years

Your friend
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 | DE 21 | 89 | Canada; N.Y. | 12-22-89 | 10 AM | [illegible]; Camden, N.J. | Dec 23 | 6AM | 1889 | Rec'd. [back]

2. On December 9, 1889, Whitman sent Bucke four copies of an advertising circular for Complete Poems & Prose, Leaves of Grass and Portraits from Life. The advertisement appeared in Traubel's Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1889); a facsimile of Whitman's draft of the circular appears in Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, May 30, 1889[back]

3. Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894), a Scottish-born author now mainly known for his works Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, was also an admirer of Whitman (Clare Harman, Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography [London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2005]). [back]

4. Stevenson's The Master of Ballantrae focused on two brothers and Scottish noblemen during the 1745 rebellion, when Charles Edward Stuart attempted to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart. It was published in 1889. [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]

6. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]


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