Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 7 October 1890

Date: October 7, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07117

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes Oct 8 1890," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Insane
Asylum London
Ontario1
7 Oct. 90

Yours of 3d and 4th just to hand2—also letter from Horace3 to say that the I.4 address5 is fixed for 21st (two weeks today).6 I have written Horace to say definitely that I shall be there unless something turns up to make it impossible—in fact I wd not miss the occasion for any conceivable consideration. Mrs Bucke7 will come East with me—will no doubt be at Address and she will stay East (at Ingram's8 I guess) for a few weeks. I do not believe that Mrs O'C.9 is not satisfied with the "Preface"10—I believe it is exactly what she wanted and I shall believe so untill I hear from herself to the contrary—so far I have not heard from her and fear she may be sick.

Thanks for your promise of the M.S. of the preface11—I want it particularly.

It is good news that you have been asked and will write for N.A.12 If you could only get strong and stay so for a few years (as you may yet—nothing is impossible to such a constitution as yours) you might yet see the dawn of the splendid fame which surely waits for you in the near future.

It is smoldering (as I have said before) and may any day burst out into a flame which will light and warm the world. There is no nonsense or doubt about this—the only question is—how long?

"How long, O Lord, how long"

Your friend and lover
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 | OC 7 | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Oct | 8 | 4PM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. See Whitman's October 3–4, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

3. 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]

4. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

5. John H. Johnston (of New York) and Bucke were in the process of planning a lecture event in Whitman's honor, which would take place October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. Robert Ingersoll delivered the lecture: "Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman." See Ingersoll's October 12, 1890 and October 20, 1890, letters to Whitman. [back]

6. On October 7, 1890, Bucke sent Traubel some advice about advertising the lecture: "I hope that you will see that the Lecture or speech is boomed for all it [is] worth—we want a big crowd and I see no reason why we should not have one. I am clearly in favor of the dinner (or supper) to Ingersoll after the lecture and would not miss it for a cow. Short hand reporter of course—two I would say so that every word might be saved—we want the speech eventually in a neat little book." Bucke himself contributed to the advertising with "The Case of Walt Whitman and Col. Ingersoll," The Conservator 1 (October 1890), 59. [back]

7. Jessie Maria Gurd (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Jessie married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]

8. William Ingram, a Quaker, kept a tea store—William Ingram and Son Tea Dealers–in Philadelphia. Of Ingram, Whitman observed to Horace Traubel: "He is a man of the Thomas Paine stripe—full of benevolent impulses, of radicalism, of the desire to alleviate the sufferings of the world—especially the sufferings of prisoners in jails, who are his protégés" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, May 20, 1888). [back]

9. 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]

10. On May 29, 1890, Ellen O'Connor asked Whitman to write a preface for a collection of tales by her husband, the late William Douglas O'Connor, which she hoped to publish—The Brazen Android and Other Tales (later entitled Three Tales). After the poet's approval was conveyed to her through Bucke, Mrs. O'Connor wrote on June 1, 1890: "Your name & William's will be associated in many ways, & this loving word from you will be a comfort to me for all time." Not having heard directly from him, she wrote about the preface once more on June 30, 1890. 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]

11. See Whitman's October 3–4, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

12. On October 3, 1890, Whitman accepted the invitation to write for The North American Review. He sent them "Old Poets," the first of a two-part contribution, on October 9[back]


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