Skip to main content

Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 24 September 1890

 loc_sd.00032.jpg To Walt Whitman Camden N. J.

Have your card of 21st.2 Am very much pleased to hear of the O'C.3 piece being written and shall be impatient to see it.4 I hope you have said nothing to Col. Ingersoll5 to influence him against the lecture6 but I guess you would not do that. The Fair is in full blast here—Asylum full of visitors from morning till night—two more days ends it thank the Lord. We are all well, meter7 affairs going on in a satisfactory manner

Love to you—So long— RM Bucke  loc_sd.00033.jpg  loc_sd.00030.jpg  loc_sd.00031.jpg

Are you going to send the M.S. of the O'C. piece to Mrs O'C.?8 If not I want very much to have it—Of course I do not want to interfere with any wish or feeling of yours on the subject—but if all favorable that way I want it very much


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 | PM | SP 24 | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | SEP | 2[illegible] | [illegible] | [illegible]. [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's September 21, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]
  • 3. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. See Whitman's September 21, 1890, letter to Bucke. The proof of Whitman's preface to W. D. O'Connor's posthumously published Three Tales is described in the American Art Association catalogue as dated "1889" [sic] by Bucke (122). [back]
  • 5. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]
  • 6. For Whitman's intial responses to the lawyer Robert Ingersoll's (1833–1899) lecture, see Whitman's September 19, 1890, letter to Bucke and the second of the poet's two September 20, 1890, letters to John H. Johnston, who helped arrange it. [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. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
Back to top