Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 24 March 1891

Date: March 24, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08128

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

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Medical Superintendent's
24 March 1891

By this morning mail arrived your two post cards of 21st and 22d1 and also "Truth"2 for 19th inst. for which latter many thanks I was going to write for it and am glad to have it without waiting. I like "Old Chants"3 well—exceedingly, indeed.—Walt, I cannot see this falling off that they speak of in your poetry—some of your late prose has not been to my mind up to your standard—but your verse has not fallen off—of course you do not write now as you did in the "Song of Myself"4 days—in power there has been since then a tremendous drop—but that drop occurred in the early '60—Since then you have held your own and today your verse has as great, as wonderful subtlety and charm as ever it had.

Stoddart's column5 is interesting and in good taste.—

I am real glad that you have had the doctor6 and more glad still that you seem to take kindly to him—I hope now that you will let him keep coming and I am certain he will help you—that he thinks things fairly satisfactory with you is good and comforting.

All quiet with us here—nothing settled yet as to when Mrs B.7 & self shall go east.

The meter,8 as usual, moves along slowly but prospects remain good I still think we should make a big thing of it but it may take a while yet

So long!
With best love
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. Bucke is referring to Whitman's postal cards dated March 21, 1891 and March 22, 1891[back]

2. Truth began as a weekly magazine in New York in 1881. After a hiatus from 1884 to 1886, a new editor, Blakely Hall, revitalized the magazine with lavish illustrations, fiction, humor, poetry, and cartoons. For more information, see Susan Belasco's "Truth." [back]

3. Bucke is referring to Whitman's poem "Old Chants," published in Truth on March 19, 1891. [back]

4. Bucke is referring to Whitman's poem "Song of Myself" from Leaves of Grass[back]

5. J. Alfred Stoddart's interview with Whitman, "A Talk with Walt Whitman," appeared in the March 19, 1891, issue of Truth[back]

6. Daniel Longaker (1858–1949) was a Philadelphia physician who specialized in obstetrics. He became Whitman's doctor in early 1891 and provided treatment during the poet's final illness. For more information, see Carol J. Singley, "Longaker, Dr. Daniel [1858–1949]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R.LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]

8. 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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