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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 19 December 1888


Your letter of 16th & 172 just to hand, also the parcel (Revue Independante, Critic, & Palermo papers). The Critic don't seem to have much in it, the Italian papers3 I am sorry to say I cannot read (but glad to have them all the same for my collection), in the "R. Ind." there is just 8 pp. translation (Faces, Locomotive in Winter, A World below the brine) no comment at all, translation not good (translator did not fully understand the english text).4 It is funny he did not claim to translate from the English but from the "American." The bundle is all welcome. As to your letter, dear Walt, I cannot say how it grieves me that you have had to suffer so much, nor how rejoiced I am that you can say you are "decidedly better"—I pray earnestly that you may keep on the mend now and  loc_es.00529.jpg have at least a good respite and rest; I wish I could get away to see you and stay a little with you—but you have good doctors and I am glad to think, a good nurse.5 You have also a wonderful constitution and I have great hopes you will make a good rally yet and be with us for many a good day and talk. I had a line from O'Connor6 (sending me on your letter)7 he said he had been bad but "am now better" which I was glad enough to hear. Willy Gurd8 not here yet—untill he comes I have no idea when I can get away East about the meter business, and even after he comes I shall probably know very little more about it for awhile for he seems to have no ideas of time at all and his days are weeks and his months years.

We are having a mean winter so far, mud (soft & sometimes frozen in to spikes and lumps) dirty snow, bad wheeling, no sleighing—but we all keep well. Love to you as always

R M Bucke  loc_es.00526.jpg see notes Dec 21, 1888  loc_es.00527.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 | DE 20 | 88 | CANADA; Camden, N.J.| DEC | 21 | 4 PM | REC'D; INSANE ASYLUM LONDON ONTARIO. [back]
  • 2. Bucke is referring to Whitman's letter of December 16–17, 1888. [back]
  • 3. The Italian newspaper contained a review of Luigi Gamberale's Canti Scelti (1887). See Whitman's letter to Bucke of December 16–17, 1888. [back]
  • 4. Bucke is referring to the translations of Francis Viélé-Griffin, an American expatriate (Gay Wilson Allen, Walt Whitman Handbook [Chicago: Packard, 1946], 490–91). According to Saunders (MS bibliography), some of Viélé-Griffin's translations appeared in the Revue Independente in November 1888. [back]
  • 5. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. In a December 14, 1888, letter to Bucke, O'Connor wrote: "I send along this letter from Walt. Rather cheering on the whole. I have been very badly off, but am better. I have all your letters on the docket and will write as soon as I can. Don't think I have forsaken you!." O'Connor is referring to a circular letter sent by Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, John Burroughs, William D. O'Connor, and Bucke on December 3–4, 1888. O'Connor's letter to Bucke is part of the Charles E. Feinberg Collection held at the Library of Congress. [back]
  • 8. 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]
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