Skip to main content

Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 9 September 1889


Still keeps warm here. Quite warm indeed the last week and still so this morning though the nights are getting cool. Yours of 4th came on Saturday,2 I was very glad to hear that you are keeping fairly well—I trust it may last. Now that the hot weather is about over I have great hopes of you. We (Mrs. B. Clare,3 some friends & self) drove to Delaware yesterday—had a pleasant visit there and a most charming drive home by moonlight. I have had a plain, very neat, oak frame, with a good mat, put on the new Photo'—it sets it off well and will keep it clean—it is a magnificent portrait, I do not know that any of the paintings touch it—I do not think I ever saw a photo' with so much expression in the eyes. The picture came in perfect order—Dickwas careful of it you may be sure4

R M Bucke  loc_es.00632.jpg  loc_es.00629.jpg  loc_es.00630.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 USA. It is postmarked: London | PM | SP 9 | 89 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Sep | 11 | 6AM | 1889 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. Bucke is referring to Whitman's letter of September 4, 1889. [back]
  • 3. "Mrs. B" is Bucke's wife, Jessie Maria (Gurd) Bucke (1839–1926), and "Clare" is the Buckes' daughter, Jessie Clare Bucke (1870–1943). [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