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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 17 January 1890


Your card of 14th2 came to hand yesterday afternoon just after I had written you and this morning I got the "Critic" and "Spectator."3 You say "Symonds4 letter was not mailed to you"5—how was that? I hope it will be?6 I have heard so much about it from Horace7 and yourself that I am very anxious to see it. Please have it sent if possible. So you are still clear of La Grippe? I hope you may stay clear of it with all my heart. It is a confounded nuisance and especially so about a big institution like this.—We are still suffering severely from it though I trust we are through  loc_es.00704.jpg the worst. As regards myself and household we may be said to be about over it. This last two week we have had no dances and very little amusements of any sort—paralized with La Grippe.

Yes, you told me before that Kennedy8 had gone into "Transcript" office as proofreader.9 Don't hear anymore about his "W.W."?

I am glad to notice that you still get out from time to time in the wheel-chair.10 The wife of John Nesbit11 (partner with W.J. Gurd12 & self in meter) died yesterday in Sarnia—La Grippe partly responsible, Gurd is going to Sarnia this evening to the funeral. Meter matters and pretty much all matters are at a standstill for the present

R M Bucke  loc_es.00701.jpg  loc_es.00702.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 | PM | Ja 17 | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Jan | 20 | 6AM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's January 14, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]
  • 3. At this time, Robert Pearsall Smith was sending Whitman copies of The Spectator from England. See Whitman's January 22, 1890, letter to Mary Smith Costelloe. [back]
  • 4. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. See Whitman's January 14, 1890, letter to Bucke. See also Symonds's letter of December 9, 1889. [back]
  • 6. From the surviving evidence it appears that Whitman did not answer Bucke's questions. It may be that the matter was further discussed and resolved in letters—now apparently missing—between Bucke and Traubel. [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 9. On January 6, 1890, Kennedy wrote to Whitman: "Am at [Boston] Transcript office, permanent engagement as proof-reader. Have to read like lightning." Whitman mentions Kennedy's engagement to Bucke in his postal card of January 14, 1890. [back]
  • 10. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889. [back]
  • 11. John Nesbit was a partner with Bucke and Gurd in the marketing of the gas and fluid meter; see Bucke's letter to Whitman of August 28, 1888. [back]
  • 12. 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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