Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 16 September 1891

Date: September 16, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08172

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 Sept 21 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
16 Sept 1891

All serene and pleasant here. Wallace2 and I go to town in the buggy pretty much every day,3 rest of time I am at work (am pretty busy these times) and Wallace reads and writes—strolls about—takes photos—talks with the women folk—boys &c. The weather has been (and is) good, quite warm for the time of year, thunder storms from time to time. I find all in very good shape at the Asylum—very little sickness, only a couple of deaths all the time I was away. The profile photo' you gave me sets opposite me on the bookshelf, can see it from where I sit—it is very fine—I consider it one of the special treasures of my collection—There is a hitch in meter4 matters but I look to get over it shortly.

So long!
Love to you
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] | SP 17 | 91 | CANADA.; CAMDEN, N.J. | SEP 18 | 5PM | 91 | REC'D. [back]

2. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Wallace, along with Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927), a physician in Bolton, founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Wallace, see Larry D. Griffin, "Wallace, James William (1853–1926)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Wallace traveled to the U.S. in the fall of 1891, landing at Philadelphia on September 8, 1891 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, September 8, 1891). After spending a few days with Whitman, Wallace traveled with Bucke to the physician's home in London, Ontario, Canada. Wallace's accounts of his travels were later published with Dr. John Johnston's account of his own visit with the poet in the summer of 1890 in Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1917). [back]

4. 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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