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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 30 June 1891


Your welcome note of 28th2 reached me here this a.m. I have not yet received the proof of birthday piece3 which you mention but I am well pleased to learn that it has been sent & shall look anxiously each mail for it (perhaps it will be here this afternoon). No hitch so far about my getting off by the Brittannic4 on 8th.5 Expect to leave here Sunday so as to have 30 hours in N.Y. Shall see Johnston6 if possible. I told you (day or two ago) that I had the note to Tennyson7—many thanks!8 I am glad to hear you are no worse. Keep so at least till I get back and see you! I want to tell you all the English news

Love R M Bucke  loc_zs.00518.jpg see notes July 2 1891  loc_zs.00519.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 | JU 30 | 91 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | JUL | 2 | 12PM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's letter of Bucke of June 28, 1891. [back]
  • 3. Bucke is referring to a proof of Horace Traubel's article "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891." The article was published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in August 1891. It was a detailed account of Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday, which was celebrated with friends at the poet's home on Mickle street. [back]
  • 4. The SS Britannic was a transatlantic ocean liner that traveled the Liverpool-New York City route from 1874 to 1899. [back]
  • 5. As Bucke's letters in May and June 1891 both to Whitman and Horace Traubel make clear, he was going abroad to establish a foreign market for his gas and fluid meter, a subject to which he referred constantly in his communications but which the poet studiously ignored. [back]
  • 6. John H. (J.H.) Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler who became a close friend of Whitman's. Whitman visited Johnston's home frequently, and Johnston assisted with raising funds for the aging poet. Alma Calder Johnston was an author and John's second wife. Her family owned a home and property in Equinunk, Pennsylvania. For more on the Johnstons, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder" (Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. 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]
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