Life & Letters


About this Item

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

Date: November 21, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08182

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 Dec 4 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot

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Medical Superintendent's
21 Nov 1891

Yours of 18th2 was received and heartily welcomed yesterday. I am still very much occupied. Two doctors still sick and one sent me in place of them leaving me 1 doctor short—then there is one of the sick doctors upstairs to be looked after. I am in the middle of my lectures to students, have just come from the lecture room where I spoke two hours on Mania—I have 4 more lectures to give and hope to be through by Xmas. If by that time I should have a full staff again I will try and get a little rest—possibly I may run down to Atlantic City for a couple of weeks and so could kill two birds with one stone, get a good rest and see you & Horace3—but we shall see after Xmas. No, dear Walt, "'probable' or even 'likely' will not do in science or history" & no one feels this more strongly than myself—in this S-B. matter4 it is the speculation that I enjoy—I am not too anxious to be sure—in one sense to be sure would spoil the fun

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] | NO 21 | 91 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | NOV23 | 6 PM | 91 | REC'D. [back]

2. Bucke is referring to Whitman's letter of November 18, 1891. [back]

3. 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]

4. The "S-B matter" is the Shakespeare-Bacon controversy. Bucke is referring to the so-called "Baconian theory." 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]


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