Skip to main content

Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 5 April 1885

 loc_es.00215.jpg Dear Walt

I did not much think you wd care to go in for the Consul business.2 Well that being disposed of I want you to turn your attention seriously to coming here for the Summer. My plan is that sometime (any time) before the 1st June John Burroughs3 should run down to Philadelphia and take you to Esopus then about 1st June I would go to Esopus and after staying there a day or two (over a Sunday perhaps) you and I would come on here. We all want you and will undertake to make you comfortable for the summer and for the winter too if you will stay. It is likely you will hear from Burroughs before very long and when you do let me  loc_es.00216.jpg know how the project strikes you4

Mrs Bucke5 wishes me to send her love to you

I am affectionately yours R M Bucke

I am still taking "The Critic"6 so saw the article and liked it much.7 You did not mention before the change in your housekeeping arrangements8 but Mr Smith9 said something to me in a letter about it. I am glad to hear that you are more comfortable but hope that that fact will not decide you to stay home all summer instead of coming here as you ought to do—I have had no more of the Round Table series since I sent the last to you10—it is time some more were coming

R M B.  loc_es.00213.jpg  loc_es.00214.jpg

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 | AP 6 | 85 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | APR | 8 | 8 AM | 1885 | REC'D. [back]
  • 2. Bucke's reference to the "Consul business" is unclear. [back]
  • 3. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. Whitman comments on Bucke and Burroughs' "hospitable invitations" in his letter to William D. O'Connor of June 11, 1885. [back]
  • 5. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]
  • 6. The Critic (1881–1906) was a literary magazine co-edited by Joseph Benson Gilder (1858–1936), with his sister Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916). Whitman's poems "The Pallid Wreath" (January 10, 1891) and "To The Year 1889" (January 5, 1889) were first published in The Critic, as was his essay, "An Old Man's Rejoinder" (August 16, 1890), responding to John Addington Symonds's chapter about Whitman in his Essays Speculative and Suggestive (1890). [back]
  • 7. Bucke is referring to Whitman's article "Authors at Home: VII. Walt Whitman at Camden," written under the pseudonym George Selwyn in The Critic 6 (February 28, 1885), 97–98; reprinted in Authors at Home, ed. Jeanette L. and Joseph B. Gilder, (New York: Cassell, 1888), and in Walt Whitman at Home. By Himself., Critic Pamphlet No. 2 (New York: The Critic Company, 1898), and The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, ed. Emory Holloway, 2 vols. (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1972), 2:58–62. [back]
  • 8. Whitman made the following entry in his Commonplace Book for February 24, 1885: "Mary Davis moves into 328 Mickle" (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Robert Pearsall Smith had apparently informed Bucke that Mary Oakes Davis, with whom Whitman had been taking his meals, had moved in and was serving as the poet's housekeeper. Davis's relations with Whitman and Bucke are discussed in Elizabeth Leavitt Keller's Walt Whitman in Mickle Street (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1921). [back]
  • 9. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. Bucke is referring to John Robertson's Walt Whitman, Poet and Democrat (Round Table Series, Edinburgh, 1884). [back]
Back to top