Skip to main content

Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 20 July 1890


It is more than a week since I heard last from you—I hope you are keeping well. I have got a big blank book properly ruled and with printed headings for each page, all planned with great pains for a Walt Whitman Bibliography.2 Commenced working at it today—it will take months to complete it (working at it odd times)—I am entering in it in proper place and order all writing by or about a certain Walt Whitman. I find that what I am shortest in is first editions of poems and prose pieces by the said W.W.—I mean as there came out in newspapers and magazines—if you have any of these (especially early ones)  loc_es.00769.jpg that you do not especially want to keep I wish you would let me have them.

I expect the new inspector (Mr Christie)3 up here tomorrow or next day. He will likely remain a couple of days.

Mrs Bucke4 went to Sarnia yesterday for a short visit. We are all well. Are having perfect weather—neither hot nor cold—just right.

How does the O'Connor "Preface"5 get on?6 I fear it is too hot down your way to do much—had a note from Mrs O'C.7 a few days ago—she seemed to be feeling the heat very much.

No Willy Gurd8 here yet. I hope (but scarcely dare expect) to see him this week.

Been dipping into Ruskin9 lately—like him better than I ever did before—but he is too hard to please—ordinary modern folk are not to his taste—too bad!

 loc_es.00766.jpg See notes July 22, '90.  loc_es.00767.jpg Love to you R M Bucke

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. Above the address has been written: "See | Notes | July | 22, '90." This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: London | AM | JY 21 | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Jul | 22 | 12 M | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. Bucke's bibliography of Whitman was never published, and the manuscript does not appear to be extant. Whitman agreed to send Bucke the items he requested. In his letter of July 22, 1890, Whitman writes that he "will send you anything I find or think of in that line." [back]
  • 3. Bucke is referring to the Provincial Inspector R. Christie, Esq. [back]
  • 4. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]
  • 5. On May 29, 1890, Ellen O'Connor asked Whitman to write a preface for a collection of tales by her husband, the late William Douglas O'Connor, which she hoped to publish—The Brazen Android and Other Tales (later entitled Three Tales). After the poet's approval was conveyed to her through Bucke, Mrs. O'Connor wrote on June 1, 1890: "Your name & William's will be associated in many ways, & this loving word from you will be a comfort to me for all time." Not having heard directly from him, she wrote about the preface once more on June 30, 1890. Three of O'Connor's stories with a preface by Whitman were published in Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1892). The preface was included in Good-Bye My Fancy (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891), 51–53. [back]
  • 6. See Whitman's July 22, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]
  • 7. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. John Ruskin (1819–1900) was one of the leading art critics in Victorian Great Britain. Whitman sent Leaves of Grass and a "couple of photographs" to Ruskin via William Harrison Riley in March 1879 (see the letter from Whitman to Riley of March 18, 1879). Ruskin, according to Whitman, expressed "worry...[that] Leaves of Grass is...too personal, too emotional, launched from the fires of...spinal passions, joys, yearnings" (see the letter from Whitman to William O'Connor of October 7, 1882). Whitman, late in life, said to Horace Traubel: "[I] take my Ruskin with some qualifications." Still, Ruskin "is not to be made little of: is of unquestionable genius and nobility" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 24, 1889, 17). [back]
Back to top