Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 12 June 1887

Date: June 12, 1887

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07207

Contributors to digital file: Ryan Furlong, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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Asylum for the Insane
London, Ontario
12 June 1887

Dear Walt

I have your card of 9th,1 I am very glad to hear that there is a chance of Herbert Gilchrist2 coming this way,3 please tell him so. You have evidently made up your mind not to go to England and you are wise to have done so. Mr & Miss Smith4 I suppose sailed yesterday. I am glad to hear of the advent of the little girl Rachel5. Wish they would get something settled (one way or the other) about that seaside cottage6— if that scheme is not carried out you had better come here yet, you really must not remain in Camden all Summer—I do wish it was settled that you were to leave there soon and where you were going, it must be getting very warm with you—here it is cool and pleasant—no end of grass and trees (you would not know the place the trees have grown so since 1880). I am very anxious to see "Specimen Days in Am" and do not understand why I have not a copy by this time, Rhys7 was to send me one as soon as the book was out—but if you have a copy to share by all means send me one as you propose. I am more and more pleased with the last photo. think it is grand. So J. N. Johnson8 is still in your neighborhood. You do not say whether he is coming further North, I fear not, but please tell him (if you have not already) that I should like much to have a visit from him if the thing is at all on the cards. I hope you will be feeling better by the time you get this but I doubt if you get much better until you get out of Camden, a change of air would do you more good now than any thing. We are prepared to make you comfortable (if the thing is possible) if you will come to us. I send you my love and am always affectionately yours


R M Bucke


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. Walt Whitman's letter to Bucke of June 9, 1887, is lost. [back]

2. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Herbert Gilchrist arrived in Camden on June 3, 1887. It does not appear that Gilchrist visited Bucke in the summer of 1887. [back]

4. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Rachel Pearsall Conn Costelloe (1887–1940), later known as Ray Strachey, was the first daughter of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe. She would later become a feminist writer and politician. [back]

6. Boston friends were raising money to buy a summer cottage they hoped would improve Whitman's failing health. Whitman eventually used the money to build his extravagant mausoleum in Harleigh Cemetery—to the shock and dismay of those who had worked hardest to solicit money. [back]

7. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. John Newton Johnson was a colorful and eccentric self-styled philosopher from rural Alabama. There are about thirty letters from Johnson in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919 (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), but unfortunately there are no replies extant, although Whitman wrote frequently for a period of approximately fifteen years. When Johnson wrote for the first time on August 13, 1874, he was forty-two, "gray as a rat," as he would say in another letter from September 13, 1874: a former Rebel soldier with an income between $300 and $400 annually, though before the war he had been "a slaveholding youthful 'patriarch.'" He informed Whitman in the August 13, 1874, letter that during the past summer he had bought Leaves of Grass and, after a momentary suspicion that the bookseller should be "hung for swindling," he discovered the mystery of Whitman's verse, and "I assure you I was soon 'cavorting' round and asserting that the $3 book was worth $50 if it could not be replaced, (Now Laugh)." He offered either to sell Whitman's poetry and turn over to him all profits or to lend him money. On October 7, 1874, after describing Guntersville, Alabama, a town near his farm from which he often mailed his letters to Whitman, he commented: "Orthodoxy flourishes with the usual lack of flowers or fruit." See also Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: R. G. Badger, 1915), 125–130. [back]


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