Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 16 March 1890

Date: March 16, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07343

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, Breanna Himschoot, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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Superintendent's Office
for the Insane
London, Ont.,1
16 March 1890

Here I am over at my office in the main asylum sitting at my desk with a fine wood and coal fire at my left hand—every thing snug and comfortable. Have attended chapel this morning and spent near three hours in here since. Have written a number of letters. Spent a while puzzling over the "Riddle Song"2 (I wish I could find the answer to it—I suppose you will never tell it?)—read some pages of Browning3 "Paracelsus"4 and now finish the forenoon writing this note (for it is dinner time and I must go over to the house). W.J. Gurd5 & self have been hard at work on the meter and we think that at last we shall get it under way. We have decided to form (have taken the first steps for that purpose) a company—sell stock—get tools made—start a factory here—build up a business if possible—move the meter by placing it in actual use—then launch out in the States, England & as we see our way. We began selling stock yesterday and sold $1000. worth—we only want to raise $5000, or $6000. That sum will get what tools we want and start us in a small way here—if the meter sells we shall have no difficulty in increasing our capital and enlarging our operations

R M Bucke

Something6 of a blizzard here since last night. Blowing & snowing. More like winter than any time since last November.


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 | MR 17 | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Mar | 18 | 1 PM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. See "A Riddle Song" in the "From Noon To Starry Night" cluster of Leaves of Grass (1881–82). [back]

3. Robert Browning (1812–1889) was one of the foremost Victorian poets and playwrights, and was married to the famous poet Elizabeth Barret Browning (G. K. Chesterton, Robert Browning [New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1908]. [back]

4. Browning's "Paracelsus" is a five-part epic poem about a sixteenth-century physicist. The poem was published in 1835, and it became a major and celebrated work. [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. Bucke wrote this postscript in red ink in the upper-left corner of the recto. [back]


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