Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 28 September 1890

Date: September 28, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07115

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes Sept. 30 1890," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



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Insane
Asylum London
Ontario
28 Sept. '901

Yours of 24 and 25 with the O'C.2 sketch3 came to hand last evening. I think our dear friend Mrs. O'C.4 will be more than pleased with the good honest Whitmanesque preface—it is right, could not be excelled, is just what was wanted—now for the Vol. of Tales5—it ought to be out for Xmas since several of them are Xmas stories.

I have all along been in favor of N.Y. for the speech,6 more especially if you could get there but now I am in favor of Phila for the sake of the dear Pharisees there. If I were down East and assisting to run the thing I would give them (at least try to give them) a dose that they would remember and that would do them good. I would go in for the biggest hall or theatre to be had and would take care that the people knew what was being done to check freedom of speech in the city7—I do not doubt the occasion properly handled could be converted into a splendid triumph for the good cause—I hope & trust our friends are awake to the importance of the crisis—tell Traubel8 if money is wanted to put me down for $50. and that I will send it any moment.

Lovely bright cool day here—we are all well—meter9 goes on quietly and well—it is wonderfull however what time it takes to get started manufacturing—the making of the patterns and the tools is what is delaying us now—these should be ready or about ready by the end of this week—we have been quite a few weeks at them—When the tools and patterns are once done there will be no more delay. The next thing will be to get orders for meters—if we can get these we can make money about as fast as we like

Your friend
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 | Sp 29 | 90 | Can [illegible]; Camden, N.J. | Sep | 30 | 4PM | [illegible] | Rec'd. [back]

2. 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]

3. See Whitman's letter of September 24–25, 1890, with which he enclosed a draft of his preface for O'Connor's posthumously published collection of short stories Three Tales (1892). [back]

4. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae 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]

5. Three of O'Connor's stories with a preface by Whitman were published in Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1892). The preface was included in Good-Bye My Fancy (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891), 51–53. [back]

6. In his letter of September 17, 1890, Bucke quoted a letter from John H. Johnston: "This morning an hours talk with Ingersoll and I got his promise and authority to proceed and get up a lecture entertainment by him for Walt's benefit—in Phila I guess—Shall I put you on committee?" In his September 19 letter to Bucke, Whitman wrote that being affiliated with the lawyer Robert G. Ingersoll(1833–1899) and "freethinking folks" was "annoying" to him, despite the poet's deep respect for Ingersoll. See also Whitman's September 20, 1890, letter to John H. Johnston. [back]

7. The hostility in Philadelphia to Ingersoll's lecture aroused the wrath of the Whitmanites, although they secretly delighted in the opportunity to battle with the "enemy." Bucke returned to the subject on September 30: "Chaff the Pharisees and tell them to 'come on!' Lord how dear old O'C[onnor] would be tickled to be in the middle of the thing!" [back]

8. 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]

9. 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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