Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 29 August 1888

Date: August 29, 1888

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes Aug 31, 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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.07228

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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Superintendent's Office.1
ASYLUM FOR THE INSANE
LONDON.
ONTARIO
London, Ont.,
29 Aug 1888

All quiet here. The affairs of the meter2 look flourishing though there is a great deal to do yet before we get it fairly started. The weather with us keeps wonderful, pleasant. I had a long letter today from O'Connor3" he seems wonderfully bright and lively considering—His letter was all about you & Donnelly.4 He sticks to you like a grand fellow as he is. The last news from Pardee5 is not good, still I do not know that he is really worse—I cannot make out much of a letter today topics are scarce and I am probably somewhat stupid.—

I have been thinking over the "Riddle Song"6 and have made up my mind that the answer is "Good Cause" or "Old Cause" or some other words meaning about the same thing.—?—

Your friend
RM 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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey | U.S.A. It is postmarked: LONDON | PM | AU 30 | 88 | CANADA; CAMDEN, [illegible] | AUG | 31. The remainder of the Camden postmark is missing. [back]

2. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]

3. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831–1901) was a politician and writer, well known for his notions of Atlantis as an antediluvian civilization and for his belief that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon, an idea he argued in his book The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, published in 1888.  [back]

5. Timothy Blair Pardee (1830–1889) was a Canadian lawyer and politician, member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontaria, Canada, and Minister of the Crown. Pardee appointed Richard Maurice Bucke, with whom he was a close friend, as the Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in Hamilton at its founding in 1876, and then the next year as Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in London. For more on Pardee, see H. V. Nelles, "Pardee, Timothy Blair," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. 11 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982).  [back]

6. Bucke is referring to Whitman's poem "A Riddle Song," which invites readers to guess "two words" that name "That which eludes this verse and any verse." [back]


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