Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 15 September 1888

Date: September 15, 1888

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes Sept. 17, 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.07242

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.,
15 Sept 1888

All quiet here and another perfect autumn day. Your card of 13th came this morning. I think it is wonderful how perfect your handwriting keeps through all your illness and feebleness. No I would not recommend Froude's2 Carlyle3 to a man who needed cheering up. I read it a few years ago and it nearly gave me an attack of melancholia. I look upon that same Carlyle as being (or having been?) one of the worst "cranks" that ever lived. And he certainly had about as bad a time of it for 86 years as any man ever had in this world. Nothing gave him pleasure, nearly everything gave him pain. As long as his wife lived her presence only seemed to add to his worry and gloom; as soon as she was dead he was more gloomy and worried more than ever because he had lost her! He was a bad sample and she was little (if any?) better. He couldn't even live with his favorite brother John! I think his ignorant old mother with her pipe was the best of the lot; think I could have liked her—I shall like to know C. by & by to see what he is like in the next world but I never expect to care much about him!

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 15 | 88 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | SEP | 17 | 6AM | 1888 | REC'D. [back]

2. James Anthony Froude (1818–1894) was an English historian, biographer, and editor of Fraser's Magazine. Froude was also a close friend and literary executor to Thomas Carlyle, after whose death Froude published a biography entitled Life of Carlyle, which described Carlyle's intellectual accomplishments as well as his personal failings, in particular his unhappy relationship with his wife, Jane Welsh. Froude had previously published Jane's writings in Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle in 1883 to much protest from Carlyle's surviving family, and his biography of Carlyle emphasized his conflicted marriage for contemporary readers. For more on Froude, see Ciarán Brady, James Anthony Froude: An Intellectual Biography of a Victorian Prophet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).  [back]

3. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985). [back]


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