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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 12 February 1891


Thanks, dear Walt, for the paper with the long piece on Koch's lymph.1 I read it with interest and am glad to see that the American Government is taking a hand in this last medical suggestion which may turn out of some importance. I have a long and very interesting letter from Wallace2 cheifly​ on the intercommunication of the human and divine. All is well here—we are having bright, quite warm weather—so far we have had an ideal winter. The meter3 jogs on. We are up to our necks in politics here, please the Lord we will beat old John A. MacDonald4 this time and get a little more freedom to move

Best Love RM 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. At a World Congress of Medicine in Berlin in 1890, Dr. Robert Koch (1843–1910)—a German physician and microbiologist—announced a substance known as "tuberculin" or "Koch's lymph" that he argued would provide a remedy for tuberculosis. It was later found to be more useful as a diagnostic tool for determining whether a person was infected with tuberculosis. Dr. Koch is known for his identification of the causative agents of tuberculosis, anthrax, and cholera, and he made key contributions to the improvement of laboratory techniques in microbiology and in the field of public health. He earned the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on tuberculosis in 1905. [back]
  • 2. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Wallace, along with Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927), a physician in Bolton, founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Wallace, see Larry D. Griffin, "Wallace, James William (1853–1926)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]
  • 4. The main issue of the Canadian national election of 1891 was tariffs, with the Conservative Party, led by John A. Macdonald (1815–1891), wanting protective tariffs while the Liberal Party, led by Wilfred Laurier (1841–1919), wanted free trade with the U.S. The Conservatives won the election. [back]
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