Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 4 February 1890

Date: February 4, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07339

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes 2/2/90," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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

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Superintendent's Office
for the Insane
London, Ont.,
4 Feb 18901

A Mr Duffield,2 Manager of City Gas Co. here, has been out all forenoon with us (Gurd3 & I) examining the meter (gas m.). He talks of putting in money and assisting us to get it started. His verdict on the gas m. boiled down amounted to this: "Our m. is as good in all respects (better in some) as the m.s at present in use and can be made for about ¼ the cost." If this verdict stands the m. is worth millions of dollars. The little "Century" piece4 strikes me deeper and deeper—all things considered it is one of the best—one of the most valuable things you ever penned—magnum in petto. If you think of it show this letter to Horace,5 want him to see the meter news

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 | FE 5 | 90 | Canada; NY | 2-6-90 | 9AM | [illegible]; Camden, N.J. | Feb | 6 | 3PM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. James C. Duffield (d. 1920) was president of the City Gas Company, London, Ontario. With his brother, William E. Duffield, he founded what was originally called the London Gas Light Company in 1879 and remained in charge of the company into the twentieth century. [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. "Old Age's Ship & Crafty Death's" appeared in the February 1890 issue of the Century[back]

5. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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