Life & Letters


About this Item

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

Date: November 16, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08216

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: Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot

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Medical Superintendent's
16 Nov 1891

Yours of 12th and 14th enclosing Miss May Johnston's1 was received and heartily welcomed today.2 Also the bundle of news papers came duly to hand and I was very glad to get them. The date is cut off the N.Y. Recorder con'g "Howards Letter"3 I want you or Horace4 to tell it me. I am glad H. has the tomb matter in hand5 and have no doubt he will soon straighten it up, seems to me clear that they were trying to impose on you but before they let this, they will find that that is not so easy. All very quiet here—raining all day but remarkably warm for 16th Nov. No frost of any account here yet but I guess we shall soon see it cold now—I am not yet quite over Clare's6 Ball (13–14 inst) still a little stiff about the back—but the young folk had a big time & enjoyed it.

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. Mary Frances (May) Johnston (1862–1957) was the daughter of John H. Johnston (1837–1919) and his first wife Amelia Johnston. She was the younger sister of Bertha Johnston (1872–1953), who was involved in the suffrage movement. May later married Arthur Levi, of London, England ("Mrs. A. C. Johnston, Author, Dies at 72," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle [May 3, 1917], 3). [back]

2. See the letter from Whitman to Bucke of November 12–14, 1891. It is uncertain which letter from May Johnston that Whitman enclosed with his November 12–14 letter to Bucke, but Johnston had written to Whitman on October 29, 1891[back]

3. Joseph Howard, Jr. (1833–1908) was a journalist, a war correspondent, and newspaper editor from Brooklyn, New York. He was a reporter for The New York Times, served as the President of the New York Press Club, and held the position of city editor of the Brooklyn Eagle (later The Brooklyn Daily Eagle), the newspaper that Whitman edited from 1846 to 1848. Howard wrote for numerous newspapers, including The Sun and The New York Recorder, and his contributions were published under such headines as "Howard's Column" and "Howard's Letter." [back]

4. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was a close acquaintance of Walt Whitman and one of the poet's literary executors. He met Whitman in 1873 and proceeded to visit the aging author almost daily beginning in mid-1880s. The result of these meetings—during which Traubel took meticulous notes—is the nine-volume collection With Walt Whitman in Camden. Later in life, Traubel also published Whitmanesque poetry and revolutionary essays. He died in 1919, shortly after he claimed to have seen a vision of Whitman beckoning him to 'Come on'. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. (1858–1919), Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 740–741. [back]

5. See Whitman's letters to Bucke of November 12–14, 1891 and November 22, 1891, for more on the payment arrangements for the tomb. [back]

6. Jessie Clare Bucke (1870–1943) was the daughter of the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke and his wife, Jessie Maria Gurd (1839–1926). [back]


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