Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 9 September 1888

Date: September 9, 1888

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes Sept 20, '88," 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.07235

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



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Superintendent's Office1
ASYLUM FOR THE INSANE
LONDON.
ONTARIO
London, Ont.,
9 Sept 1888

A quiet, warm, dreamy, breezy, sunshiny, peaceful, Sabbath day—no sounds in the air but the sleepy buzzing of flies and the distant church bells—chapel is over and the folk mostly gone to church—I am off duty and putting in the morning in the office writing a batch of letters—have just written to Mrs Costelloe2—had a letter from her last evening—she says Mr Smith3 is now quite blind of one eye but can read with the other—she sends me a picture of Ray4 who seems to be thriving finely. I have begun my Annual Report am going to make it pretty long this year—shall put in a lot about alcohol—results of its disuse at the Asylum and a discussion as to its mode of action upon the nerve centers. I shall be kept here pretty steady I guess until I get the Report off my hands, a month from now, after that if all be well it is quite possible I shall be East about the meter5 business—Should that go as we think it ought this may be the last annual report I shall write—but of course I say nothing about that at present.

Much love to you
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 | AM | SP 10 | 88 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | SEP | 20 | 6AM | [illegible] | REC'D.  [back]

2. 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]

3. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. 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]

5. 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]


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