Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 2 June 1889

Date: June 2, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07305

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Caterina Bernardini, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Superindentent's Office.
Asylum for the Insane,
London, Ont.,
2 June 18891

We have partly recovered here from the effects of the Ball which had rather a paralysing effect upon us. My daughter Clare2 is still in bed but will be up in a day or two I trust. There is nothing in God's world more absurd than these balls & parties at which one sits up all night pretending to have a good time and (without any pretence) has a very bad time for some days afterwards. I am impatient to hear about the W.W. dinner3 I think I could have had a "good time" at that if I could have got there.4 The weather here keep singularly dark and cold. I am just at the end of poor O'Connor's5 last book Mr. "Donnelly's Reviewers"6 it is wonderfully clever.7


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 | JU 3 | 89 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Jun | 4 | 12 M | 1889 | Rec'd. [back]

2. The Buckes had three daughters and five sons: Clare Georgina (1866–1867), Maurice Andrews (1868–1899), Jessie Clare (1870–1943), William Augustus (1873–1933), Edward Pardee (1875–1913), Ina Matilda (1877–1968), Harold Langmuir (1879–1951), and Robert Walpole (1881–1923). [back]

3. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

4. For Whitman's thoughts about his 70th birthday dinner, see his June 4, 1889 letter to William Sloane Kennedy and his June 4–5, 1889 letter to Bucke. See also Whitman's June 2, 1889 letter to Traubel, regarding the published volume of birthday speeches Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1889). [back]

5. 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]

6. In his pamphlet Mr. Donnelly's Reviewers (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1889), William D. O'Connor attempted to defend Ignatius Loyola Donnelly's Baconian argument—his theory that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon—an idea Donnelly wrote about in his book The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, published in 1888. The book was published just two weeks after O'Connor's death. [back]

7. According to Traubel, Whitman mentioned that Kennedy and Bucke had reported liking O'Connor's book in letters he received on June 4, 1889. Whitman was almost certainly referring to this letter from Bucke, as well as Kennedy's letter of June 3, 1889; see also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, June 4, 1889[back]


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