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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 3 September 1889


Yours of 30 & 31 Aug. to hand this afternoon, have read it and the enclosure (Mr. Smith's letter)2 with much pleasure and interest. Am rejoiced that you keep so well—also to hear of the new pieces coming out in Harper's & Century3—be sure and let me know when they appear as I might miss them—Dick4 of course is at home and at work. Two Londoners out to see me this afternoon about the meter—they are red hot to make some arrangement to manufacture in Canada and I guess we shall give them a chance though nothing can be done until Gurd5 gets back here—I expect him about the end of this week. We are all well—have been having a hell of a hot time—very dry—no rain for weeks—all burnt up. Tell Horace6 I want to see the "Dinner7 Book."8

R M Bucke  loc_es.00628.jpg  loc_es.00625.jpg  loc_es.00626.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 | SP 4 | 89 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Sep | 6 | 6AM | 1889 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. Whitman enclosed the August 13, 1889, letter from Robert Pearsall Smith with his August 30–31, 1889, letter to Bucke. [back]
  • 3. Bucke is referring to Whitman's poem "My 71st Year," which would be published in Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine in November 1889 and "Death's Valley," which would be published in Harper's Monthly Magazine in April 1892. On August 25, 1889, Henry Alden, the editor of Harper's New Monthly Magazine, requested a poem. Whitman sent "Death's Valley," and was paid $25 on September 1, 1889 (The Commonplace-Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). The poem accompanied an engraving of George Inness' "The Valley of the Shadow of Death" (1867); see LeRoy Ireland, The Works of George Inness (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965), 98–99. When the poem appeared in April 1892, the frontispiece of the magazine was a photograph of Alexander's portrait of Whitman, and above the poem appeared a more recent sketch of the poet by the same artist. A partial facsimile of this manuscript appears in Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, May 30, 1889. See also "Death's Valley" (loc.00189) in the Integrated Catalog of Walt Whitman's Literary manuscripts. [back]
  • 4. Whitman mentions Dick Flynn in his October 14, 1880, letter to Thomas Nicholson. Like Nicholson, Flynn was an employee at Bucke's asylum, doing odd jobs. Whitman came to know him during his visit to the asylum in 1880 and admired Flynn's gardening. Flynn took a tour of the U.S. in 1889 and visted Whitman Camden home, where he carried the Gutekunst photographic portrait of Whitman back to Dr. Bucke in London Ontario. Whitman and Bucke both greatly admired this photographic portrait. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in Camden, on May 31, 1889, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]
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