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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 18 May 1889


Pretty warm here. Wonderful growing weather. Wish you could see the Asylum grounds and gardens, they look well. I got the papers about the dinner1 and about you calling in your chair at the "Post" office.2 I am real glad to think that you are out and getting a little fresh air and sunshine. All quiet here—no end of work and not much of any thing else. No word from Willy Gurd3 for about two weeks—don't know whether the meter has come to grief or what is wrong—probably he is busy & is simply putting off writing. I suppose the good Camden folk are fully committed to the dinner now.4 I hope they will make it a grand success. I wish I loc_es.00592.jpg could be there but it will be impossible. We have an Annual Ball on 30th and if nothing else stood in the way the Ball would prevent me leaving. I am going to Delaware for a drive tomorrow—the country is as lovely as it can be I expect a good time—will tell you Monday how I got on.5

as always, your friend R M Bucke
  • John Clifford
  • Richard Watson Gilder
  • Thomas B. Harned
  • Herbert H. Gilchrist
  • Frank Williams
  • Horace L. Traubel

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. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]
  • 2. Whitman had recently gotten a wheel chair that gave him access to the outdoors again, and he occasionally stopped in to the Camden Post offices to see friends there. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Notices for Whitman's birthday dinner were published on May 10, 1889, in both the Camden Post and the Camden Courier (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, May 10, 1889). [back]
  • 5. The list of names that has been added below Bucke's signature in an unidentified hand, is almost certainly associated with the poet's birthday dinner; some of them were part of the planning committee for the event, while others would serve as speakers. Artem Lozynsky theorizes that "the list represents the names of those to whom Whitman intended to present copies of the 1889 edition of Leaves of Grass—the 'Birthday Book'" since Traubel suggested this idea to Whitman, who seemed to be in favor of the plan (The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Loyzynsky [Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977], 127n2. Traubel writes, "I proposed that he [Whitman] give copies of the Birthday Book to the main speakers, and he instantly took hold of the idea. 'Yes—that would mean Clifford, Tom, Herbert, Frank Williams, perhaps the Colonel—who else?'" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, May 24, 1889). For an account of the birthday dinner, see Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, May 31, 1889. [back]
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