Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 20 February 1891

Date: February 20, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08119

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 april 12 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Andrew David King, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Medical Superintendent's
20 Feb 1891

I have from you today two papers—one with a piece about Blake2 & Whitman—the other with a report of a speech by Wiman3—thanks. I am much distressed today to hear from Horace4 that you have been (at least when he last saw you—last Tuesday night) worse than usual—perhaps (I hope so) before this you are easier again—if not you will be bad enough when this reaches you. It is a dull and weary world (for you) just now—and, indeed, has been for long enough. We who are well and strong can hardly realize what a bad time you must have—my greatest comfort at present is that Horace is near you. Nothing new here—plodding along as usual, meter5 not yet out! Feeling well & hearty however except for anxiety about you.

I send you best love and best wishes and wish I could do more
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: CAMDEN, N.J. | FEB | 23 | 6AM | 1891 | REC'(?), LON [illegible] | F [illegible] 21 | | CA [illegible]A. [back]

2. William Blake (1757–1827), the English painter, printer, and Romantic-era poet, is known for his illuminated books, including his collection of poems Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789). He also illustrated numerous books, including works by the English writers Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Gray, and John Milton. [back]

3. Erastus Wiman (1834–1904) was a Canadian journalist and businessman who moved to the U.S. and developed large parts of Staten Island. He was a vocal supporter of reciprocity (or free trade) between Canada and the U.S., and in 1887 he published his book Commercial Union Between the United States and Canada. Bucke agreed with Wiman's views. [back]

4. 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 late 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]

5. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]


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