Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 1 November 1888

Date: November 1, 1888

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes Nov. 3, 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.

Notes for this letter were derived from The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977).

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

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07261

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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

Another month commenced and am greatly in hopes we are to have some fine weather to make up for the nearly 40 days rain we have had. At all events the month has opened well. A lovely bright, hazy, warm, fresh autumn morning. I got yesterday the bundle of papers including "Critic" and was much interested in the review of Crawford's "Kalevala."2 Also in the "Tribune" article on what New York is doing in the way of provision for her insane—this is a live issue with us here at present and I forwarded the article with a letter to Honble A.S. Hardy (Provincial Secretary)3 recommending that we do something of the same sort. In the afternoon came McKay's4 "November Boughs"5—for which many thanks, I like it well and if I had not seen the other should have thought it quite perfect, as it is I like your "N.B." with the limp cover best. Horace6 tells me that Musgrove7 is to leave on Sunday or Monday morning. I have written Ed. Wilkins8 and will have him leave here by 11.40 train Sunday morning. He will reach Philadelphia about 8 a.m. Monday. I shall give him full directions to your house and letters to you and to Mrs Davis.9 Still no word from Wm Gurd10—looks as if he has had an attack of agraphia—inability to write—confound the fellow he promised to let me know every few days how he was getting on and has only written one letter in 2½ weeks. All well here had a big crowd of young folk at the house last evening (All-Hallow-E'en) telling fortunes, dancing &c &c great fun

Affectionately
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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: LONDON | PM | NO 1 | 88 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | Nov | 3 | 6 AM | 1888 | REC'D. [back]

2. Bucke is referring to John Martin Crawford's The Kalevala: The Epic poem of Finland, into English [verse] by J.M. Crawford, 2 vols. (New York: J.B. Alden, 1888). [back]

3. Arthur Sturgis Hardy (1837–1901) was a member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and served as Provincial Secretary from 1877 to 1889. He later became Premier of Ontario. [back]

4. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–2. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the publisher Whitman had originally contracted with for publication of the volume, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, and Complete Prose Works. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. W. A. Musgrove replaced Dr. Nathan M. Baker as Whitman's caregiver on July 15, 1888. Musgrove was far less satisfactory than Baker. Traubel noted that "Musgrove is a cloudy man. I asked how M. got on. W. evaded the question by some general remark. . . . He [Musgrove] is only a nurse—not a doctor" (Horace Traubel, ed., With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, July 16, 1888). Yet, Whitman later described Musgrove as "kind active & considerate all through" (See the letter from Whitman to Bucke of November 3–4, 1888). [back]

8. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

9. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. William John Gurd (1845–1903) was Richard Maurice Bucke's brother-in-law, with whom he was designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. Bucke believed the meter would be worth "millions of dollars," while Whitman remained skeptical, sometimes to Bucke's annoyance. In a March 18, 1888, letter to William D. O'Connor, Whitman wrote, "The practical outset of the meter enterprise collapsed at the last moment for the want of capital investors." For additional information, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 17, 1889, Monday, March 18, 1889, Friday, March 22, 1889, and Wednesday, April 3, 1889.  [back]


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