Bucke, R(ichard) M(aurice) (1837–1902)
British-born writer who grew up in Canada and practiced as
a psychiatrist. He was born March 18, 1837, in Methwold, Norfolk,
England. When only a year old, his father took him to
Canada, where he was educated at London Grammar School
and studied medicine at McGill University, graduating in 1862.
He pursued additional studies in England and France, then he
returned to Canada in 1864 to take up medical practice. In
1876 he became medical superintendent of the insane asylum
in Hamilton, Ontario, and in 1878 was medical superintendent
of the insane asylum in London, Ontario.
He became a great friend of poet Walt Whitman
(1819–1892) and was fascinated by the recurring themes of
spiritualism, human experience, and individual development
in Whitman’s writings. Around 1872 Bucke had what became
for him a life-changing mystical experience which he called an
‘‘intellectual illumination.’’ He spent the next thirty years seeking
out other people who had a similar experience and reflecting
upon the significance of such altering of consciousness. The
literary result of his study, the book Cosmic Consciousness (1901),
became a classic work on the subject. He theorized that a
higher consciousness was a natural faculty in man at a certain
state of development.
He became Whitman’s literary executor and helped edit
Whitman’s complete writings in 1902, then wrote the first
major biography of the poet. Bucke died February 19, 1902, in
London, Ontario. His Cosmic Consciousness gave mystical experience
a place in the secular world and provided psychiatry with
a means of viewing religious experience in other than pathological
terms.
Borrowing from Whitman’s poem ‘‘Song of Myself,’’ he
wrote, ‘‘I saw and knew that the Cosmos is not dead matter but
a living Presence that the soul of man is immortal, that the universe
is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all
things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation
principle of the world is what we call love and that the
happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain.’’