Man of Letters

Superintendents |  Young Adventurer |  Medical Student and Practitioner
Alienist and Administrator |  Man of Letters |  Philosopher

Drawing of Creek Farm where Dr. Bucke grew up, near London, Ontario.  Edwin Seaborn Fonds, Western Archives.

Drawing of Creek Farm where Dr. Bucke grew up, near London, Ontario. Edwin Seaborn Fonds, Western Archives.
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Dr. R. Maurice Bucke did not receive schooling in any formal sense while growing up on the family farm. His father, an English clergyman, taught his sons how to read and gave them access to his extensive library. "Beyond that," Bucke recalled, "each was his own schoolmaster."

For Dr. Bucke, reading literature became an essential pastime at a young age. His interest in the written word, as well as his own attempts at writing verse, made him contemplate being a writer as a young man. Although he gave up this idea, Bucke retained a life-long appreciation for literature.

In "Books that Have Influenced Me," one of the last pieces that he wrote before his accidental death, Bucke noted the impact that works by such writers as Charles Darwin, Auguste Comte, and Francis Bacon had made on him. However, it was Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855, which he considered most influential. "Cut out of me what I owe to this book," he wrote, "and I should be a totally different individual."

Dr. Bucke felt that behind Whitman's words was a message of great spiritual importance. He was a vocal supporter of Whitman as well as a good friend and correspondent. Dr. Bucke also believed that Whitman had achieved cosmic consciousness, a theory which he later explained in a book by the same name. Whitman, however, felt that Dr. Bucke misunderstood him, saying: "You construe me far beyond what I am or could be - far beyond what I want to be."

Throughout his life, Bucke wrote as prolifically about literary subjects as he did about psychological medicine. In 1883, he published a biography of Whitman. Although Whitman did not fully support this endeavour, he did provide Dr. Bucke with some assistance. Dr. Bucke also gathered letters and accounts of Whitman from friends, acquaintances, admirers, and a few detractors to include in the publication. The biography provides a glowing account of Whitman's life and an examination of his poetry. It also portrays the poet as a very "down-to-earth" individual who was exceptionally charismatic.

In many ways, Dr. Bucke embodied the idea of the "cultured man of letters," put forth by the editors of the Toronto Mail, in which his article about influential books was published three days after his sudden death in February 1902.