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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 10 March 1891


It is five days since the election but the excitement has not yet subsided.2 The government will have a majority of about 30 but made up entirely from the outlying provinces—extreme east and extreme west Ontario gives them little or no majority and Quebec has gone badly against them. If old John A. (the Premier)3 was 20 years younger he might pull his party together and tide it over—but as it is I do not believe that he with his 76 years can pull through. He will keep things going for a while, of course, but when he strikes a rapid, and there are several bad ones just a little downstream of him, his boat is apt to go to pieces.

Did I mention having received and read the "National Literature" piece?4 It is good, first rate in fact—the language a little  loc_zs.00323.jpg cranky and queer in places but the thought fresh and vigorous and true. I like it well.

This morning I have your card of 8th5 & the "Critic"6 (sent by you) of 7th—thanks for it.

Your condition still seems wretched—you do not seem to rally—that is bad—why do you not send for a good doctor? Surely something could be done to give you relief.

Thanks for the "Critic"—I have glanced through it and shall read it later.

All quiet with the meter,7 we have not got into the swing of manufacturing it yet but are on the way and will get there all right—I am at present at work organizing a staff to manufacture.

We have had dark, damp, raw, very unpleasant weather here for some weeks. Today bright and pleasant—spring will soon be with us again—with you it must be about arrived?

R M Bucke  loc_zs.00324.jpg  loc_zs.00325.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 | MR [illegible] | 91 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | MAR | [illegible] | 12 M | 1891 | REC'D. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. Sir John Alexander Macdonald (1815—1891), of Scotland, was a lawyer and the first prime minister of Canada. He was a Conservative and served as prime minister for a total of nearly twenty years. [back]
  • 4. Whitman published "Have We a National Literature?" in the March 1891 issue of The North American Review. [back]
  • 5. Bucke is referring to Whitmans's postal card of March 8, 1891. [back]
  • 6. The Critic (1881–1906) was a literary magazine co-edited by Joseph Benson Gilder (1858–1936), with his sister Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916). Whitman's poems "The Pallid Wreath" (January 10, 1891) and "To The Year 1889" (January 5, 1889) were first published in The Critic, as was his essay, "An Old Man's Rejoinder" (August 16, 1890), responding to John Addington Symonds's chapter about Whitman in his Essays Speculative and Suggestive (1890). [back]
  • 7. 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]
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