Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 17 October 1891

Date: October 17, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08176

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, Stephanie Blalock, and Alex Ashland

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Medical Superintendent's
17 Oct 1891

Well, dear Walt, here we are still—same old 2 & 6—I have your post card of 14th2 and glad to get it and judge by it that you are still fair to middling—not suffering much I trust tho' I fear not having an extra good time. Who is the "offer to publish" from?—Reeves?3 Harry Forman4 is safe to do anything you want him—he is a good fellow and a good friend. The weather here is perfect—bright, cool days and the most glorious moonlight nights—I am reading Bacon5 and Shakespeare6—B's Henry VII7 & Sh's Henry VIII8 and comparing them—I will bet money the same man wrote them both

Always affectionately
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 | OC 19 | 91 | CANADA.; CAMDEN, N.J. | OCT 20 | 3 PM | 91 | REC'D.; Philadelphia, PA | Oct | 20 | 1230 PM | 1891 | Transit; [illegible] 3 | Oct | 2 [illegible] | [illegible]M | [illegible] | [illegible]. [back]

2. See Whitman's postal card to Bucke of October 14, 1891[back]

3. William Dobson Reeves (1825–1907) was a bookseller and publisher in London, England. In 1851, he formed a partnership with Osborne Turner (1825–1887), publishing and trading as "Reeves & Turner." Later, Turner's son John (1861–1894) was also involved in the business. Reeves and Turner had expressed interest in becoming the English publishers of Whitman's last miscellany Good-Bye My Fancy, and Bucke had spoken to Reeves about publishing Whitman's works while Bucke was traveling in England in the Summer 1891. Bucke had written to Horace Traubel about the matter (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, August 6, 1891). The firm had ordered 100 copies of the book (With Walt Whitman in Camden, August 28, 1891), but Whitman told Traubel that they must respect the interests of David McKay of Philadelphia, the volume's American Publisher (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, August 6, 1891). McKay preferred to have Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) of Paisley, Scotland, a publisher who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman, handling the publishing of Whitman's work abroad (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, August 31, 1891). In the end, Reeves and Turner did not publish an edition of Whitman's Good-Bye My Fancy[back]

4. Henry Buxton Forman (1842–1917), also known as Harry Buxton Forman, was most notably the biographer and editor of Percy Shelley and John Keats. On February 21, 1872, Buxton sent a copy of R. H. Horne's The Great Peace-Maker; A Sub-marine Dialogue (London, 1872) to Whitman. This poetic account of the laying of the Atlantic cable has a foreword written by Forman. After his death, Forman's reputation declined primarily because, in 1934, booksellers Graham Pollard and John Carter published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, which exposed Forman as a forger of many first "private" editions of poetry. [back]

5. Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was an English philosopher, scientist, statesman, and author. Bacon's personal notebooks and works came under scrutiny during the nineteenth-century because of suspicions that he had written plays under the pen-name William Shakespeare in order to protect his political office from material some might find objectionable. For more on the Baconian theory, see Henry William Smith, Was Lord Bacon The Author of Shakespeare's Plays?: A Letter to Lord Ellesmere (London: William Skeffington, 1856). [back]

6. William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was an English poet and playwright and is widely considered the world's greatest dramatist. He was the author of numerous plays, sonnets, and narrative poems. [back]

7. Francis Bacon's influential book History of the Reign of Henry VII (1622) considers the first Tudor King Henry VII, who had taken the throne from Richard III—the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenets—in 1485. This is Bacon's only completed work of history; he began writing an account of Henry VIII, but only finished an introduction to the intended work. [back]

8. Henry VIII is one of Shakespeare's history plays, based on the life of Henry VIII, who was the King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. He is best remembered for his six marriages, first to Catherine of Aragon, then to Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and, finally, to Catherine Parr. Shakepeare's play was published in the First Folio of 1623. [back]


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