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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 11 December 1888


Yours of friday and saturday, (finished the evening of saturday) came to hand last evening—and your postcard of sunday reached me this morning. I am greatly rejoiced that you are doing so well—I look forward confidently now to seeing you in fair trim when I go East next month. You ought to have some copies of the big book2 by now and I shall hope to get one in a very few days. All is quiet here, no winter yet, roads slush, grass almost green, thin snow lying in patches, "a gray discouraged sky over-head."3 loc_es.00515.jpg Wm Gurd4 not back here yet & no further word from him—he may be here this evening.

I am reading Parkman's histories—they are most fascinating books—have read "La Salle and Discovery of the Mississippi" and am reading "France and Spain in the New World."5 Have struck nothing more interesting for a long time—I am borrowing them from R.S. Gurd6 who has become quite a book man these late years. Hope to be able to tell you tomorrow something about Wm Gurd and the meter.

Love to you R M Bucke  loc_es.00512.jpg See notes 12/26/88  loc_es.00513.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 | PM | Dec 11 | 88 | Canada; Camden N.J. | Dec | 13 | 12 M | [cut away] | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 3. Bucke is quoting from Whitman's "To Think of Time": "A gray discouraged sky overhead, the short last daylight of December. . . ." [back]
  • 4. William John Gurd (1845–1903) was Richard Maurice Bucke's brother-in-law, with whom he was designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. Bucke believed the meter would be worth "millions of dollars," while Whitman remained skeptical, sometimes to Bucke's annoyance. In a March 18, 1888, letter to William D. O'Connor, Whitman wrote, "The practical outset of the meter enterprise collapsed at the last moment for the want of capital investors." For additional information, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 17, 1889, Monday, March 18, 1889, Friday, March 22, 1889, and Wednesday, April 3, 1889. [back]
  • 5. Bucke gives Parkman's books incorrect titles. La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West (1879)—originally published as The Discovery of the Great West (1869)—was the third volume in Francis Parkman's series France and England in North America (1865–1892). [back]
  • 6. Robert S. Gurd (1838–1937) was a lawyer and businessman in Sarnia, Ontario, and the brother of William S. Gurd. [back]
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