Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 18 September 1891

Date: September 18, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08173

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
18 Sept 1891

I have your card of 15th and today your good letter of 16th2—thanks, too, for the scrap of M.S.,3 I have duly filed it away in its place in the great W. W. Collection. Longaker4 (after having, it seems) "gone over" you pretty thoroughly on 15th) has much to the delight of Horace5 and all of us pronounced you to be in wonderful shape "considering"—in fact he was suprised to find you so well and we are all cheered up accordingly. I sent my book6 with a note to Lord Tennyson7 and have other things to send in due course. (I sent him the Lip' Dinner piece8 while still in England).9 I have Critic of 5 inst.,10 thanks. Very glad to hear so good report of your sight I was somewhat uneasy about it—I am thoroughly enjoying Wallace's11 visit12

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 | AM | SP 1 [illegible] | 91 | CANADA.; CAMDEN, N.J. | SEP 21 | [8?]AM | 91 | REC'D. [back]

2. See Whitman's postal card to Bucke of September 15, 1891, and his letter to Bucke of September 16, 1891. [back]

3. Bucke is referring to the manuscript piece Whitman enclosed in his September 16, 1891, letter to Bucke. Of the enclosure, Whitman wrote "the MS bit appears to be an acknowledgment sent to me to Pall Mall Gaz[ette] nearly five y'rs ago." [back]

4. 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. Carol J. Singley reports that "Longaker enjoyed talking with Whitman about human nature and reflects that Whitman responded as well to their conversations as he did to medical remedies" ("Longaker, Dr. Daniel [1858–1949]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R.LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998]). [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 mid-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. Bucke had published a biography of the poet several years ealier, see Bucke, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883). [back]

7. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

8. Horace Traubel's article "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891," was published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in August 1891. It was a detailed account of Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday, which was celebrated with friends at the poet's home on Mickle Street. [back]

9. During the months of July and August 1891, Bucke had traveled in England in an attempt to establish a foreign market for the gas and fluid meter he was developing with his brother-in-law William Gurd. [back]

10. In his letter of September 16, 1891, Whitman had asked Bucke if he had seen The Critic of September 5, 1891; the issue included a review of Whitman's Good-Bye My Fancy[back]

11. 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]

12. In September 1891, following two months of travel in England, Bucke returned to the United States. After arriving in New York, Bucke went to Camden to see Whitman. James W. Wallace, co-founder of the Bolton College of Whitman admirers, followed shortly behind Bucke, arriving 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 returned with Bucke to London, Ontario, Canada, where he visited with Bucke's family and friends. [back]


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