Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 5 June 1889

Date: June 5, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07308

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, Caterina Bernardini, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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Superintendent's Office.
Asylum
for the Insane
London.
Ontario
London, Ont.,
5 June 1889

Your card of 2d1 came to hand last ev'g and this morn'g I received the two packets of papers. Thanks for them. Long letter from Willy Gurd2 last ev'g all going well with the meter but I guess will take a while yet to get it fairly started. The Dinner3 must have been a complete success as far as I can judge from papers &c. But the big success of 31st is the little L. of G.4 I am more and more delighted with it. I enclose a letter from a friend of mine here which will explain itself guess he will become "one of the elect" after awhile.5 Still raining! beats all. All well here

Love to you
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. Bucke is referring to Whitman's letter of June 2, 1889[back]

2. William John Gurd (1845–1903) was Richard Maurice Bucke's brother-in-law, with whom he was designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. Bucke believed the meter would be worth "millions of dollars," while Whitman remained skeptical, sometimes to Bucke's annoyance. In a March 18, 1888, letter to William D. O'Connor, Whitman wrote, "The practical outset of the meter enterprise collapsed at the last moment for the want of capital investors." For additional information, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 17, 1889, Monday, March 18, 1889, Friday, March 22, 1889, and Wednesday, April 3, 1889.  [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. In his letter of June 1, 1889, Whitman told Bucke that he sent a copy of the pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass. The poet had the special pocket-book edition printed in honor of his 70th birthday (May 31, 1889) through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. Bucke's copy of the 1889 pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass is described in the Sotheby & Co (1935) and the American Art Association (1936) auction catalogues of his Whitman collection. The item is numbered 11 and 294, respectively. [back]

5. Horace Traubel notes that Whitman received "a letter from Dr. A____t of London, Ontario" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, June 8, 1889). Gertrude Traubel seems to have been unable to decipher her father's handwritten record of the physician's name. Dr. Charles A. Sippi's diary provides no clue as to the identity of Dr. A____t. However, a Dr. Henry Arnott is listed at 226 Queens Avenue, London, Ontario in 1890. There is no earlier listing (letter of March 13, 1974 from Edward Phelps of the Weldon Library). [back]


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