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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 2 April [188]9

Your card of 31st just to hand.2 Very sorry to hear such bad accounts of the cold but trust it will soon be better, [/] wish you could have a good alcohol bath, real good sweat, would help you very much—can you not get some one in Camden to help you to arrange an alcohol bath—it is extremely simple. Willy Gurd3 still here, he goes East tomorrow morning, has the gas meter4 all constructed ("in his minds eye") already, will soon put it together when he gets alongside his lathe—all well here and nothing new. Ground still quite white with snow

Affectionately yours 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. Horace Traubel's note, "see | notes | April 6 | 1889," appears in the upper left-hand corner of the recto. The reference is to Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, April 6, 1889. [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's postal card to Bucke of March 31, 1889. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Although Whitman celebrated "gasometers" in "Song of the Exposition"—in which the Muse is "Bluff'd not a bit by drain-pipe, gasometers, artificial fertilizers" (Leaves of Grass: Comprehensive Reader's Edition, Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley, eds. [New York: New York University Press, 1965], 198)—he had little faith in Gurd's new invention: "It's equally useless whether it's the one thing or the other [i.e. the gas and fluid meter or the gas meter]" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, April 6, 1889). [back]
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