Skip to main content

Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 25 August 1889


Your card of 22d1 came to hand yesterday evening and has made me feel very bad and I should feel still worse but for the interline "am certainly easier" which I earnestly hope may be still true. I shall look anxiously for further word of you. About the Photo'2 that you have for me—thanks in advance—there is a young man going from the Asylum to Phila' tomorrow—he will call to see Ed.3 and you and he will bring the photo' back safe (he is coming right back) if you will give it to him. His name is Dick Flynn he was here in '80 and recollects you well and wants to see you—he will tell you about the Asylum and all of us.4 We are well and all goes well with us here—

Much Love to you dear Walt R M Bucke  loc_es.00624.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. See Whitman's postal card to Bucke of August 22, 1889. [back]
  • 2. See the frontispiece of the fifth volume of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964), as well as the entries for Tuesday, August 27, 1889 and Friday, August 30, 1889. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Richard "Dick" Flynn was a longtime assistant to Bucke at the London asylum, doing odd jobs. Whitman met Flynn and admired his gardening work when he visited Bucke in 1880; he mentions Flynn in his October 14, 1880, letter to Thomas Nicholson. Traubel also records that Whitman was anticipating a visit from Flynn in Camden shortly before Bucke wrote this letter (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, August 27, 1889). Flynn, while on a tour of the U.S., apparently stopped by Whitman's Mickle Street home and carried a copy of the Gutekunst photograph of 1889 back to London with him. Whitman had worried that the photo would get damaged in the mail. Whitman and Bucke both greatly admired this photographic portrait. [back]
Back to top