Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 21 June 1891

Date: June 21, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08154

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 June 23 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
21 June 1891

Your postcard of 18th came yesterday p.m.2 With it came a letter from England re meter3 which has decided me to sail in two weeks. Shall leave here two weeks today and sail by White Star S. Britannic 7 a.m. wednesday 8th July.4 May not see you before sailing but I shall certainly see you about end august on way home for a day or two.

All quiet and well here. I guess that hot spell was pretty bad down in Camden—it was warm—almost hot—here but lately it is quite cool again and today the temperature is perfect—

Ask H.5 about our Canadian politics—he is quite a Canadian now6—looks as if the conservative govt was on its last legs—I am very glad we may now get reciprocity—commerical union or perhaps political union with States—some one of these we want bad.7

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 | AM | JU22 | 91 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | JUN | 23 | 12PM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. See Whitman's postal card to Bucke of June 18, 1891[back]

3. 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]

4. As Bucke's letters to Whitman and Horace Traubel in May and June 1891 make clear, he planned to travel abroad in order to establish a foreign market for his gas and water meter. [back]

5. 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]

6. Horace Traubel married Anne Montgomerie on May 28, 1891 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). The couple then traveled with the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke to Bucke's home in London, Ontario, Canada. They returned to Camden on June 14. [back]

7. 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]


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