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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 24 August 1890

No clergiman this morning so I read the service and a sermon (One of Chas. Kingleys1) myself. Since then have been writing official letters. It is now afternoon—perfect weather—cool, bright, white fleecy clouds on every hand, a gentle breeze stirring—flowers, trees, grass all in fine order after the good rain a few days ago. Your post card of 21st2 came to hand yesterday—no sign yet of Dr Johnston,3 singular how he could have disappeared so completely. Willy Gurd4 is at the asylum today—he lives in the city (London) now—works every day in the meter shop. He has a man working with him, they are getting ready to produce meters, expect to be actually manufacturing (turning out meters) in another week or two.

At the asylum all is very quiet, Mr5 & Mrs Ingram6 will have given you a good idea how peaceably and quietly life goes on with us. I am satisfied, have really all I want except only I should like to see you oftener and have more time to give to the good cause—but perhaps (as far as this last is concerned) the little I do now is as much as I could do under any circumstances. I got the other day from England a little book by Havelock Ellis7 called "The Criminal"[.]8 I am greatly interested in it. We are all well—Little Pardee9 is taking private lessons (at the house) in Greek, Latin and French [/] we think after it is over he will be quiet strong and may go to school or college as well as any boy—he is in fact quite well now, the only thing being to keep him so

Love to you as always R M Bucke10

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. Charles Kingsley (1819–1875) was a novelist, a Church of England clergyman, and a controversialist. [back]
  • 2. Bucke is referring to Whitman's postal card of August 21, 1890. [back]
  • 3. Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) of Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, was a physician, photographer, and avid cyclist. Johnston was trained in Edinburgh and served as a hospital surgeon in West Bromwich for two years before moving to Bolton, England, in 1876. Johnston worked as a general practitioner in Bolton and as an instructor of ambulance classes for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways. He served at Whalley Military Hospital during World War I and became Medical Superintendent of Townley's Hospital in 1917 (John Anson, "Bolton's Illustrious Doctor Johnston—a man of many talents," Bolton News [March 28, 2021]; Paul Salveson, Moorlands, Memories, and Reflections: A Centenary Celebration of Allen Clarke's Moorlands and Memories [Lancashire Loominary, 2020]). Johnston, along with the architect James W. Wallace, 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 Johnston, see Larry D. Griffin, "Johnston, Dr. John (1852–1927)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. William John Gurd (1845–1903) was Richard Maurice Bucke's brother-in-law, with whom he was designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. Bucke believed the meter would be worth "millions of dollars," while Whitman remained skeptical, sometimes to Bucke's annoyance. In a March 18, 1888, letter to William D. O'Connor, Whitman wrote, "The practical outset of the meter enterprise collapsed at the last moment for the want of capital investors." For additional information, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 17, 1889, Monday, March 18, 1889, Friday, March 22, 1889, and Wednesday, April 3, 1889. [back]
  • 5. William Ingram, a Quaker, kept a tea store—William Ingram and Son Tea Dealers—in Philadelphia. Of Ingram, Whitman observed to Horace Traubel: "He is a man of the Thomas Paine stripe—full of benevolent impulses, of radicalism, of the desire to alleviate the sufferings of the world—especially the sufferings of prisoners in jails, who are his protégés" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, May 20, 1888). Ingram and his wife visited the physician Richard Maurice Bucke and his family in Canada in 1890. [back]
  • 6. Little is known about Jane Ingram (ca. 1826), the wife of William Ingram, who was the owner of a tea store in Philadelphia. [back]
  • 7. Henry Havelock Ellis (1859–1939) was an English physician and sexologist. He co-wrote Sexual Inversion (published in German 1896; English translation in 1897) with Whitman correspondent John Addington Symonds. His book The New Spirit, with a chapter on Whitman, appeared in 1890. [back]
  • 8. Bucke is referring to the first book published by Havelock Ellis (1859–1939), The Criminal (London: Walter Scott, 1890). An overview of the field of criminal anthropology, this book helped Ellis establish his scientific reputation. [back]
  • 9. Edward Pardee Bucke (1875–1913) was the son of the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) and his wife, Jessie Maria Gurd (1839–1926). He would receive his M.D. from the Univeristy of Western Ontario in 1897 and practice otolaryngology in London, Ontario. [back]
  • 10. The words "strong . . . bucke" are written in the top margin of the first page. [back]
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