Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 19 February 1891

Date: February 19, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08118

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: Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Andrew David King, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

page image
image 1
page image
image 2

Medical Superintendent's
19 Feb 1891

I have your post card of 16th1 and note what you say re constipation. Do you ever take any Friedrichshall water2 now? I wish you would get some and take a wine glass or more in a tumbler of hot water first thing in the morning 2 or 3 times a week—I think you would find benefit from it. Thanks for the papers and especially for the "Personal memoranda" proof3 which I like well. Here there is nothing but politics, the main quetsion in the context being: Shall we or not have closer trade relations with the U.S.? It seems a funny thing to dispute over. It is as if Michican or New York should argue: Shall we have a protection tariff against the rest of the states so as to encourage manufacture at home (in Mich or N.Y.) and in that way increase the population and prosperity of the said Mich. or N.Y.? How very singular such a debate would sound and yet it would be no different from the present one except that here we have a tariff and want to get rid of it. Then (the funniest thing of all) many of our people dread closer relations with the U.S. for fear of moral contamination! A sort of—"I thank thee oh God that I am not like this publican," business. Or as the Scotchman prayed: "Lord send us a guid conceit of ourselves!"

Two more weeks will settle the fuss for this time—Elections on 5th March.4

Best love to you dear Walt
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. See Whitman's postal card to Bucke of February 16, 1891[back]

2. Friedrichshall water is a purgative mineral water from springs located near Heidelberg, Germany. It was one of several mineral waters commonly used in the late nineteenth century to treat constipation. (See C. R. C. Tichborne, The Mineral Waters of Europe [London: Baillière, Tindall & Cox, 1883], Chapter 3, "Chemistry of the Purgative Waters.") [back]

3. Whitman published an extensive autobiographical note in the March 1891 issue of Lippincott's Magazine entitled "Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda." This may be the proof to which Bucke is referring. [back]

4. The main issue of the Canadian national election of 1891 was tariffs, with the Conservative Party, led by John A. Macdonald (1815–1891), wanting protective tariffs while the Liberal Party, led by Wilfred Laurier (1841–1919), wanted free trade with the U.S. The Conservatives won the election. [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.