Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 22 December 1889

Date: December 22, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07328

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "Billstein's Bill $15.25.," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

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.,
22 Dec 18891

Well the winter solstice has come but so far no winter. We had a thunder storm last night. Today there is a stiff breeze blowing out of the west. Not cold at all. No frost. Country all water and slush. "A gray discouraged sky over head."2 Willy Gurd3 is not to be back to Christmas after all. He went to N.Y. last Thursday to submit the meter to some leading gas men. That is all I know about him. He may be home in a week or not for a month. Will all depend (I suppose) upon how he gets on. Should any flaw be demonstrated in the meter I have little doubt he will go back to Danbury4 and work there (be it weeks or months) untill the hitch is got over. Should no flaw appear he will likely soon be here. I am hearing almost nothing from the outside world these times, and am too much occupied to do anything outside my work. I wish you a good, pleasant Xmas, dear Walt, and am 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 23 | 89 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Dec 24 | 1 PM | 1889 | Rec'd. [back]

2. Bucke is quoting a portion of a line from Whitman's poem "To Think of Time": "A gray discouraged sky overhead, the short last daylight of December." [back]

3. 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]

4. Bucke is referring to Danbury, Connecticut. [back]


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