Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 24 March 1889

Date: March 24, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07292

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.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Caterina Bernardini, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

page image
image 1
page image
image 2

Superintendent's Office.
for the Insane
London, Ont.,
24 March 1889

A warm (almost hot) day—sun shining like June—birds singing all about the grounds—have been for a short drive and am going again soon for another and to post this.

I have looked up the Sarrazin1 article and I find (as expected) that Kennedy2 is quite right. S. says that "Hegel is (according to W.W.) the greatest of the philosophers."3

I have been looking up the "Encyclopédie" question and I find it a bigger one than I expected. There have been many "Encyclopédies" pubd in France in the last 200 years and they are hard to untangle one from the other. However here are a few facts: 1, The great, celebrated, "Encyc'." edited by Diderot4 was in 21 Vol. It was pubd from July 1751 to 1765. 2, The big "Encyc." called "Encyclopédie Méthodique ou par ordre de matiéres" was edited by C.J. Panckoucke,5 then by H. Agasse, then by the widow of the latter and was published—first vol. in Nov. 1782—and the last in 1832 (just 50 years coming out). The text (letter press) of the book was in 166½ (I think 4to vols, and the plates in 51 parts, equal probably to 25½ vols—making 192 vols altogether. Your line (p. 120 "N.B.")6 to be correct ought to read say like this: "While the many (or while the ? two hundred) quarto volumes of the great french Encyclopédie are being published at fits and intervals in Paris" It is not quite correct to call the book the "Encyclopédie Française").7

We are all well, I am hearty, very glad to get home again after my run in the East—though I enjoyed my stay in Philadelphia immensely. I feel pretty confident I shall be East again in the course of the summer. I hope you will stick to the baths and a moderate rubbing with the hand or towel after each—and change your under clothes very often (two or three times a week) they need not be washed each time but hung up and aired—washing flannel so often soon8 spoils it and is unnecessary

Goodby dear Walt
Love to you
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. 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]

2. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Artem Lozynsky points to the English translation of Sarrazin's essay to reveal Sarrazin's understanding of Whitman's thoughts on the philosopher Hegel: "Surely, I repeat, as regards thought this pantheism is not new, and we have but to examine it a little closer to recognize under the mystic tide of words the theory of the identity of contradictions announced by Hegel, the greatest of philosophers according to Walt Whitman, ('Specimen Days,' pp. 174–177)" (Gabriel Sarrazin, "Walt Whitman," translated by Harrison S. Morris, In Re Walt Whitman, ed. Horace Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893], 163–164). In the essay, "Carlyle from American Points of View," Whitman explains that, when it comes to "the impalpable human mind and concrete Nature," Hegel's "fuller statement of the matter [the relation between the 'Me' and the 'Not me', according to Lozynsky] probably remains the last best word that has been said upon it, up to date" (Specimen Days [Glasgow: Wilson and McCormick, 1883], 175). See The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Loyzynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), 113n1. Yet, Whitman goes on to write in the same essay that although the philosophers' contributions (including Hegel's) are "indispensible to the erudition of America's future," "there seems to be . . . something lacking—something cold, a failure to satisfy the deepest emotions of the soul—a want of living glow, fondness, warmth, which the old exaltes and poets supply, and which the keenest modern philosophers so far do not" (Specimen Days [Glasgow: Wilson and McCormick, 1883], 177). [back]

4. Denis Diderot (1713–1784) was a French philosopher and writer who was the chief editor of the Encyclopédie (1751–1772). [back]

5. Charles-Joseph Panckoucke (1736–1798), a French writer and publisher, oversaw the publication of the Encyclopédie Méthodique (1792–1832), along with his son-in-law Henri Agasse (1752–1813); Thérèse-Charlotte Agasse—Panckoucke's daughter and Agasse's widow—completed the work. [back]

6. All of Bucke's research here was in the service of one line of Whitman's opening remarks in his November Boughs essay "Notes (such as they are) founded on Elias Hicks"; in a catalog of "the foremost actors and events from 1750 to 1830 both in Europe and America [that] were crowding each other on the world's stage," Whitman mentions how "the many quarto volumes of the Encyclopædia Française are being published at fits and intervals, by Diderot, in Paris." [back]

7. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, May 6, 1889[back]

8. This letter continues at the top of the first page. [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.