Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 10 September 1888

Date: September 10, 1888

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes Sept. 11, 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.07236

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.,
10 Sept 1888

How do the fates serve you these last few lovely days? Well I hope. We are all well here and the meter2 goes on quietly and well as far as we know. Nothing fresh however. The autumn weather here is just perfect, sunshiny, hazy, dreamy. Puts me in mind all the time of Tennyson's3 "Lotos Eaters."4 How goes the book—I hope to get a perfect autograph copy both of N.B.5 & C.W.6 from you before a very great while—I shall look upon them as the crown and summit of all my W.W. Collection—a collection by the way which gives me a lot of worry sometimes to think what I am eventually to do with it. I regard it as so precious that no ordinary disposition of it will do—I am sorry to hear that Kennedy's7 book is not to be out at present—I fear it is quite a disappointment to him.

I am going to write an elaborate annual report this year mostly on "alcohol" am in the middle of it—expect to give the alcohol men a "black eye"

Affectionately yours
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. There is an additional Camden postmark from September, but it is illegible. [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. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

4. "The Lotos-Eaters" is a poem by Tennyson about Odysseus and his mariners eating lotos leaves and entering an altered state of consciousness; it was published in 1832. [back]

5. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, he made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

7. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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