Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 5 January 1891

Date: January 5, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08191

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Editorial notes: The annotation, "hand to Horace," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "see notes Jan 13, 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Ryan Furlong, Jason McCormick, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Medical Superintendent's
5 Jan. 1890 18912

Your letter of 3d3 enclosing Mrs O'Connor's of 2d just to hand. Also "Transcript" of 31st. Thanks for all. I am much pleased to hear that H. M. & co. will publish O.C.'s stories and I guess the way they propose is the best.4 I shall send for Jan. "Forum" to see what Gosse5 has to say though I am getting a little tired of reading criticisms of L. of. G. & of W. W. by people who know nothing about either the one or the other.6 But we must stick to it untill the end.

It seems to me that you are getting on fairly these times, "considering"—and I am mighty thankful that things are as well with us as they are. I look forward hopefully to many a good hour with you yet when the success of the meter7 shall have loosened my hands and my feet from some of the restraints that are now upon them. My arm gets on finely,8 am at office every day, eat & sleep fairly well

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: LONDO[N] | AM | JA 5 | 91 | CANADA; Camden, N.J. | Jan | 7 | 1 PM | 1891 | Rec'd. [back]

2. Bucke misdated this letter January 5, 1890. He (or some unknown person) corrected the date by writing 1891 in black ink above the dateline. [back]

3. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of January 3, 1891[back]

4. On January 2, 1891, Ellen O'Connor informed Whitman that Houghton, Mifflin & Company was planning to publish her late husband William D. O'Connor's story "The Brazen Android" in The Atlantic Monthly in April and May. They also planned to publish a collection that included three of O'Connor's stories and a preface by Whitman. Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter was published the following year, in 1892. [back]

5. Sir Edmund William Gosse (1849–1928), English poet and author of Father and Son (a memoir published in 1907), had written to Whitman on December 12, 1873: "I can but thank you for all that I have learned from you, all the beauty you have taught me to see in the common life of healthy men and women, and all the pleasure there is in the mere humanity of other people" (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, June 1, 1888). Gosse reviewed Two Rivulets in "Walt Whitman's New Book," The Academy, 9 (24 June 1876), 602–603, and visited Whitman in 1885 (see Whitman's letter inviting Gosse to visit on December 31, 1884, Gosse's December 29, 1884 letter to Whitman, and The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977], 3:384 n80). In a letter to Richard Maurice Bucke on October 31, 1889, Whitman characterized Gosse as "one of the amiable conventional wall-flowers of literature." For more about Gosse, see Jerry F. King, "Gosse, Sir Edmund (1849–1928)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Edmund Gosse published "Is Verse in Danger?" in The Forum (January 1891), 517–526. [back]

7. 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]

8. Bucke described this accident in a December 25, 1890, letter to Whitman's disciple and biographer Horace Traubel: "I had a fall last evening and dislocated my left shoulder (it was the right arm last time, three months ago)." This letter is held in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. It is reprinted in Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, December 27, 1890[back]


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