Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 5 January 1890

Date: January 5, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07330

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.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Breanna Himschoot, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



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Superintendent's Office
Asylum
for the Insane
Ontario
London, Ont.,
5 Jan 18901

It is 4 P.M. I am writing in my office. I can just see to write without the gas and that is all. It is warm and has rained all day (raining hard now). This is the funniest winter yet. La Grippe is having a lively time here. Knocking the folk over right and left (but they soon get up again). Nearly every one at my house is more or less sick—some of them pretty bad (but nothing dangerous so far). Two of the Drs at the Asylum are doubled up in bed. Beemer2 & I keep around yet. Quite a number of attendants &c (no patients, so far) sick. If the disease increases it may cripple us pretty badly for a short time. Willy Gurd3 has been very sick for 3 days, a little better today


R M Bucke


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: London | AM | JA 6 | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Jan | 7 | 4PM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. Dr. Beemer was in charge of the "Refractory Building" at Bucke's asylum. Whitman met Beemer during his visit there in the summer of 1880. See James H. Coyne, Richard Maurice Bucke: A Sketch (Toronto: Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 1906), 52. [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]


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