Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: November 9, 1888

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes Nov. 13, 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.07267

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
9 Nov 1888

Your welcome letter conveying the good news that you are "feeling better still" is just to hand. You will have got mine before now telling you I had heard from Wm Gurd2 & that all was O.K., there was a line yesterday from him to Matilda Gurd3 but nothing special in it. All is right but move slower than we figured on. I am real glad you seem pleased with Ed W.4 I knew he would suit you or I would not have sent him so far—he was with me here a long time and I know him well—he is just what he looks a good, simple minded, quiet, honest country boy—just the kind you like. (A note just came from Wm Gurd—all well but not yet able to fix a date for me to go East). Yes I got the Phila "Times" 27 Oct. only a middling notice—it is suprising to me how little the average reviewer sees—not one of them seem to have the lest idea what you have been driving at this last 35 years—guess it will come all right in the end. Rolleston5 has sent me a copy of his Epictetus (Camelot Series)6—it is exactly what I wanted I have been looking it over and am delighted with it. Have not yet written to thank him, shall very soon. I guess you are going to make more of a recovery than any of the doctors suspected—they did not allow enough for that wonderfull physique of yours—I wish Pardee7 & O'Connor8 were making as good a flight—have heard nothing from either of them for some days.9


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 | AM | NO 10 | 88 | CANADA; [illegible], N.J. | NOV | 12 | 8 AM | [illegible] | REC'D. [back]

2. 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]

3. Matilda Gurd (d. 1890), Richard Maurice Bucke's sister, was the wife of William Gurd. [back]

4. 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]

5. Thomas William Hazen Rolleston (1857–1920) was an Irish poet and journalist. After attending college in Dublin, he moved to Germany for a period of time. He wrote to Whitman frequently, beginning in 1880, and later produced with Karl Knortz the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry into German. In 1889, the collection Grashalme: Gedichte [Leaves of Grass: Poems] was published by Verlags-Magazin in Zurich, Switzerland. See Walter Grünzweig, Constructing the German Walt Whitman (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995). For more information on Rolleston, see Walter Grünzweig, "Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (1857–1920)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Bucke is referring to The Teaching of Epictetus: Being the "Encheiridion of Epictetus," with Selections from the "Dissertations" and "Fragments." Translated from the Greek, with Introduction and Notes, by T.W. Rolleston. 3d ed. rev. "The Camelot Series" (London: Walter Scott, n.d.). "The Camelot Series" was edited by Ernest Rhys. [back]

7. 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]

8. 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]

9. Both Timothy Blair Pardee and William Douglass O'Connor had been in poor health; both men died in 1889. For Whitman's reaction to the news of the death of O'Connor, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, May 10, 1889. For his thoughts upon learning of Pardee's death, see With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, July 25, 1889[back]


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