Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 12 December 1890

Date: December 12, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07132

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, "notes Dec 15, '90," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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Medical Superintendent's Office.
Insane Asylum
London Ontario
12 Dec 18901

I have your post card of 8th2 and your good long letter of 8th & 9th.3 The latter enclos'g Mrs Costelloes4 letter of 28th5 ult. All heartily welcome and would have been acknowledged before but I was away in Detroit all yest'd'y. We are having today almost a blizzard. The roads were almost bare of snow last ev'g and now it is deep-deep. And we are all rejoicing for sleighing is the correct thing here this time of year and if we do not have it we feel badly used. I have the Courier (6th) with long piece abt. tomb6—thanks—I was real glad to get it. I have had no paper with picture (you mention sending one—did not come) or was it the mausoleum picture you spoke about as being "poor—bad", I guess it was for it is a poor affair.7 I have the Critic8 (29 Nov)—I like the notion of the vol. Your own pieces—Sarrazin,9 Rolleston,10 Ingersoll11—it will make a most interesting little book.12 Nothing could be better. Yes, dear Walt, be sure and send me a copy of paper with notice of Jefferson's13 death—I want much to see it and have it.14 I shall also like much to have a copy of the talk at Reissers,15 do not forget to send it me. Abt. Johnston16 & the $10. Beers17 gave Johnston $10. on the train (day of lecture) for ticket or tickets—J. showed the $10. bill to Ingersoll & self but I never heard any more about it or that J. paid it over to you or any one else. I explained all this to Horace18—he understands it all—speak to him about it. I was very glad to get the letter from Mrs. Costelloe (which you forwarded me)—I never lose interest in the Smiths19 or Costelloes20 and always want to hear all I can of and from them

With best love
R M Bucke

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).


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: London | AM | DE 13 | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Dec | 15 | 6 AM | [illegible] | Rec'd. [back]

2. See Whitman's postal card of December 8, 1890[back]

3. See Whitman's letter of December 8–9, 1890[back]

4. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. See Mary Smith Costelloe's November 28, 1890, letter to Whitman. [back]

6. In his final years, Whitman designed an elaborate granite tomb, which P. Reinhalter & Co. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, built for the poet in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey. The tomb cost $4,000. Whitman covered a portion of these costs with money that his Boston friends had raised so that the poet could purchase a summer cottage; the remaining balance was paid by Whitman's literary executor, Thomas Harned. For more information on the cemetery and Whitman's tomb, see See Geoffrey M. Still, "Harleigh Cemetery," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Bucke is referring to the Camden Daily Courier of December 6, 1890. [back]

8. The Critic (1881–1906) was a literary magazine co-edited by Joseph Benson Gilder (1858–1936), with his sister Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916). Whitman's poems "The Pallid Wreath" (January 10, 1891) and "To The Year 1889" (January 5, 1889) were first published in The Critic[back]

9. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. 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]

11. 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]

12. Horace Traubel and Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke were beginning to make plans for a collected volume of writings by and about Whitman. Bucke, Traubel, and Thomas Harned—Whitman's three literary executors—edited In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), which included the three unsigned reviews of the first edition of Leaves of Grass that were written by Whitman himself, William Sloane Kennedy's article, "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman," and Robert Ingersoll's lecture Liberty in Literature (delivered in honor of Whitman at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall on October 21, 1890), as well as writings by the naturalist John Burroughs and by James W. Wallace, a co-founder of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship in Bolton, England. [back]

13. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized figure. For more on Jeff, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

14. Whitman's obituary for his brother "Thomas Jefferson Whitman: An Engineer's Obituary" was published in the Engineering Review of December 13, 1890. See Prose Works 1892, Volume II: Collect and Other Prose, ed. Floyd Stovall (New York: New York University Press, 1964), 692–693. [back]

15. In honor of Whitman's 71st birthday, his friends gave him a birthday dinner on May 31, 1890, at Reisser's Restaurant in Philadelphia. The main speaker was Col. Robert G. Ingersoll, and there were also speeches by the physicians Richard Maurice Bucke and Silas Weir Mitchell. The Camden Daily Post article "Ingersoll's Speech" of June 2, 1890, was written by Whitman himself and was reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (Prose Works, 1892, ed. Floyd Stovall, 2 vols. [New York: New York University Press: 1963–1964], 686–687). "Honors to the Poet" appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, June 1, 1890. See also the notes on Whitman's birthday party in the poet's June 4, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

16. John H. Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler and close friend of Whitman. Johnston was also a friend of Joaquin Miller (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1915], 2:139). Whitman visited the Johnstons for the first time early in 1877. In 1888 he observed to Horace Traubel: "I count [Johnston] as in our inner circle, among the chosen few" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 3, 1888). See also Johnston's letter about Whitman, printed in Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1915), 149–174. For more on Johnston, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

17. Henry Augustin Beers (1847–1926) was a poet and professor of English literature at Yale. On May 16, 1881, Beers wrote to thank Whitman for quoting his verses in The American on May 14: "To a young writer, uncertain of himself, the slightest notice from an older & distinguished brother in the craft is very precious . . . because it gives him heart in his work." Whitman responded to Beers on May 20, 1881. Beers in 1898 termed Whitman "a great sloven" (see William Sloane Kennedy, The Fight of a Book for the World [West Yarmouth, MA: The Stonecroft Press, 1926], 136). Similar reservations appear in his Four Americans (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1919), 85–90. [back]

18. 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]

19. Bucke is referring to Whitman's Philadelphia Quaker friend Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898), an evangelical minister, and his wife Hannah Whitall Smith (1832–1911). Whitman had a close relationship with the Smiths and their children; the family moved to England in 1888. For more information on Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

20. The Costelloes were Benjamin Francis ("Frank") Conn Costelloe (1854–1899) and Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945). Frank was Mary's first husband, an English barrister and Liberal Party politician. Mary was a political activist, art historian, and critic. [back]


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