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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 16 April 1891


Still sitting here in my room upstairs—foot mending2—but slowly. Not sick nor in pain. Put in my time mostly reading, some writing and chatting. Do not especially mind the confinement—worst part of it is continuous sitting—I can sympathize more than ever with you sitting loc_zs.00358.jpg there in your room month after month—I really do not see how you stand it so patiently as you do. I have read Rider Haggard's3 "Heart's Desire"4 and have almost finished Goldwin Smith's5 "Canada."6 Keep a copy of L. of G. handy and from time to time dip into that.

Meter7 matters are coming to the front with us and assuming more and more importance—impossible to give details now as the  loc_zs.00359.jpgthing is spreading out and convering too much ground. Lately it looks as tho' some one will have to go to England this summer to introduce the meter and probably form a syndicate to handle it in the British Islands. And more and more (though other names have been mentioned) it looks as if that "someone" will be be me. Our Annual meeting is end of this month at or about that time the question must be settled and answered. If I go loc_zs.00360.jpg I may sail in May and be gone 6 weeks to two months. In many ways this arrangement would suit me—I like the water, like to see England and friends there, it would be the best change I could have for my health (which really needs some building up)8 and I should perhaps be the best best man available for the business which is to be transacted—should I go I think I should try and see old Tennyson9—Would you give me a line?10 Mr Costelloe11 will be one of our leading men in meter affairs in England

R M Bucke  loc_zs.00362.jpg see notes april 18 1891  loc_zs.00363.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 | AM | AP 17 | 91 | CANADA.; N Y | 4-18-91 | 8AM | [illegible]; CAMDEN, N.J. | APR | 1[illegible] | [illegible] | 91 | REC'D. [back]
  • 2. In his April 13, 1891, letter to Whitman, Bucke had also reported that his foot, which had been sore for a couple of weeks, had become inflamed. [back]
  • 3. Sir Henry Rider Haggard (1856–1925), often referred to as "H. Rider Haggard," was an English writer from Bradenham, Norfolk, England. Haggard is known as a writer of adventure fiction set primarily in Africa; he authored such notable works as King Solomon's Mines (1885) and She: A History of Adventure (1887). [back]
  • 4. Haggard and the Scottish novelist and literary critic Andrew Lang (1844–1912) published a fantasy novel entitled The World's Desire in 1890. The novel continues the story of Odysseus, hero of Homer's ancient Greek epic poem The Odyssey, by detailing Odysseus' voyage to find Helen of Troy, who is described througout the novel as his "Heart's Desire." [back]
  • 5. Educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford, Goldwin Smith (1823–1910), was a British historian and journalist. In the 1860s, he taught at Cornell University in New York. He was the author of numerous works on a wide range of subjects from the American Civil War and European political history to the life of the English novelist Jane Austen. [back]
  • 6. Smith's book Canada and the Canadian Question was published in 1891, in which he discussed Canada in the nineteenth century and his belief that Canada and the United States could merge into a single country. [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]
  • 8. Bucke experienced a series of accidents and bouts with illness in the winter of 1890 and spring of 1891. He dislocated his shoulder as the result of a fall in December 1890. See Bucke's letter of December 25, 1890 to Whitman's biographer and literary executor Horace Traubel, which is reprinted in With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, December 27, 1890. In his April 13, 1891, letter to Whitman, Bucke also explains that the "grip" he had suffered in late January seemed to have lingering symptoms that he continued to experience. [back]
  • 9. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Whitman wrote to Tennyson in 1871 or late 1870, probably shortly after the visit of Cyril Flower in December, 1870, but the letter is not extant (see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 223). Tennyson's first letter to Whitman is dated July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]
  • 10. The manuscript letter of introduction that Whitman addressed to Tennyson and dated June 26, 1891, may not be extant. The only known copy of this letter is a transcription made by Bucke. Whitman enclosed the letter of introduction in his June 26, 1891, letter to Bucke. Bucke acknowledged receipt of Whitman's introduction on June 29, 1891. [back]
  • 11. Benjamin Francis Conn Costelloe (1854–1899), the first husband of the political activist and art historian Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, was an English barrister and Liberal Party politician. [back]
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