Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 15 November 1890

Date: November 15, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07126

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.

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



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Insane Asylum
London Ontario
London,1
15 Nov. 1890

Your letter of 12th2 came to hand yesterday—Shall we soon have a chance of seeing the "Annex"—"Good bye My Fancy"?3 This then I suppose is to be the end of the glorious Leaves? Well they are pretty complete—I hardly know what could be added with advantage. Next thing will be to incorporate the two annexes into the body of the book so as to make of it what it is—a unit.

Have you seen Dr. Thomas4 yet? has he order'd glasses for you and have you got them?5 I am anxious to know when you get and use your new glasses and whether they do not make you more comfortable. As for that infernal belly-ache6—lasting so long I hardly know what to say about it Surely you must need some medicine and you could not go far wrong to take say six grains of Calomel7 following it in about 8 hours with a good drink of Friedrichshall8—unless you are a great deal better I advise you either to do this or send for a doctor—there is no use suffering more than can be helped.

I enclose a letter just came from Wallace9—want you to return it, the paper he speaks of has not yet come to hand—shall I send it to you when it does come?

We have had some days of magnificent indian summer weather—today is dark & cloudy but pleasant still

I hope for some more indian summer before the cold weather sets in

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 | NO 17 | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Nov | 18 | [illegible]. [back]

2. See Whitman's November 12, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

3. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Dr. Thomas was an oculist who had visited the poet on October 25, 1890; he examined Whitman and was to assist the poet in obtaining "suitable glasses." See Whitman's letter to Bucke of October 26, 1890[back]

5. Whitman reports on his dissatisfaction with the glasses in his letter of November 13, 1890[back]

6. See Whitman's November 12, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

7. In the nineteenth century, calomel was used as a purgative agent to treat numerous illnesses, especially gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation, dysentery, and vomiting. In high doses, calomel could lead to mercury poisoning. [back]

8. Friedrichshall water is a purgative mineral water from springs located near Heidelberg, Germany. It was one of several mineral waters commonly used in the late nineteenth century to treat constipation. (See C. R. C. Tichborne, The Mineral Waters of Europe [London: Baillière, Tindall & Cox, 1883], Chapter 3, "Chemistry of the Purgative Waters.") [back]

9. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (1852–1927), a physician from Bolton, he founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Wallace, see Larry D. Griffin, "Wallace, James William (1853–1926)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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