Skip to main content

Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 22 March 1891


Your good long letter of 19th1 came to hand yesterday afternoon—I had been at a meter2 meeting—all the principal stock holders present—got home about 6 P.M. and found it on my desk—I am much pleased that you have had a doctor3 and I look for considerable results in increased comfort—I hope you will stick to the doctor and let him stick to you!

When you have plate-proofs of the "goodbye" poems4 I hope you will send me a copy? Horace5 sent me a proof of "Deaths Valley"6 and intimated that it might (or not) go in the Vol. I cannot undertand you leaving it out—to my mind it is an admirable piece—most valuable. One loc_zs.00327.jpg expression in it—naming death "God's eternal beautiful right hand"7 viz. contains more poetry than many a vol. of so-called poems. Oh yes, I have the Round Table "Walt Whitman" by John Robertson 18848—have had it for years.

All quiet and all well here—warm outside—snow going away rapidly—roads muddy.—The meter gets on slowly but gets on & I have hopes will do well but there is a lot of work to do yet before we make the first million out of it.

Nothing new here—Mrs B.9 and self think of going east for a short holiday April or May but nothing settled yet. I have a long M.S. piece by J.W. Wallace10 on W.W.—it is scrappy but good.

So long! With love 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. Bucke may be referring here to Whitman's letter dated March 19, 1891. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. Daniel Longaker (1858–1949) was a Philadelphia physician who specialized in obstetrics. He became Whitman's doctor in early 1891 and provided treatment during the poet's final illness. Carol J. Singley reports that "Longaker enjoyed talking with Whitman about human nature and reflects that Whitman responded as well to their conversations as he did to medical remedies" ("Longaker, Dr. Daniel [1858–1949]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R.LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998]). [back]
  • 4. Whitman is referring to a group of thirty-one poems that he would publish as "Good-Bye my Fancy . . . 2nd Annex" as part of the 1891–1892 "deathbed" edition of Leaves of Grass. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. Bucke refers here to Whitman's poem "Death's Valley." Whitman chose not to include it in Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). [back]
  • 7. In the version of "Death's Valley" that appeared in Harper's April 1892 issue, shortly after Whitman's death, the first pair of adjectives is reversed so that the line reads "God's beautiful eternal right hand." [back]
  • 8. Bucke is referring to John Robertson's Walt Whitman, Poet and Democrat (Round Table Series, Edinburgh, 1884). [back]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. 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]
Back to top