Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 30 April 1891

Date: April 30, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08139

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 Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes May 2 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, and Brandon James O'Neil

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Medical Superintendent's
30 April 1891

All quiet here. Have been to city this morning. Am in office now (3 p.m.) and shall go to city again with this in about 15 minutes. Dr Harkness2 (my old friend who you met in Kingston in '80 and who went up the Saguenay with us3) is here—he has not been well, has been to Arizona & California and is on his way home. He is better—has gained 20 lbs. I am gaining every day but am pretty lame yet and not very strong. How are things with you? No worse I trust? This sick spell of mine4 has knocked all my calculations endways—do not at all know now when I shall go east or what I shall do—shall probably go to England5 after a while and see you on my way

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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey | U.S.A. It is postmarked: LONDON | [illegible] | AP 30 | 91 | CANADA.; CAMDEN, N.J. | MAY | 2 | 1PM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. John "Jack" Harkness (1841–1916), Dr. Bucke's friend and colleague, attended McGill University's Medical School with Bucke, graduating 1862. [back]

3. From June 3 to September 29, 1880, Bucke traveled with Whitman from the poet's home in Camden to Bucke's residence near London, Ontario, Canada. After spending the summer on the grounds of the Asylum for the Insane, the two went on an extended trip that included journeying by railroad to Toronto and taking a steamship on Lake Ontario before going to Chicoutimi, Quebec, on the Saguenay River. On the return journey, Bucke traveled with Whitman as far as Niagara, at which point the poet retuned to New Jersey on his own. [back]

4. Bucke experienced a series of accidents and bouts with illness in the winter of 1890 and spring of 1891. He dislocated his shoulder as the result of a fall in December 1890. See Bucke's letter of December 25, 1890, to Whitman's biographer and literary executor Horace Traubel, which is reprinted in With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, December 27, 1890. In his April 13, 1891, letter to Whitman, Bucke writes that his foot, which had been sore for a couple of weeks, had become inflamed. He goes on to note that he was "confined" in his room while his foot was "mending," and he also explains that the "grip" he had suffered in late January seemed to have lingering symptoms that he continued to experience. [back]

5. As Bucke's letters in May and June 1891 both to Whitman and Horace Traubel make clear, he was going abroad to establish a foreign market for his gas and fluid meter, a subject to which he referred constantly in his communications but which the poet studiously ignored. [back]


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