Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 9 June 1889

Date: June 9, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07309

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 Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Editorial note: The annotation, "See note June 12, 1889," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Breanna Himschoot, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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Superintendent's Office.
Asylum for the Insane,
London, Ont.,
9 June 18891

I have your letter of 4th & 5th and post card of 6th2 You will know before this that I got the papers (with account of banquet)3 but if you send another set (not to hand yet) it is no harm. Yes, of course I have the pocket book L. of G.4 and am never tired of handling it and admiring it—it is the lovelist little book I ever saw and now that the last corrections are made it is I suppose abt perfect as a piece of printing. I like the paper much, it has a good dead surface and tho' the ink shows through a little it does not obscure the reading any to hurt. Please do not forget to send me a copy (no doubt you have some printed as usual, or better yet if it would not be too much trouble, to write it out for me—I should value an M.S. copy to no end) of "Voice from Death" What a fearful catastrophe!5 America has never seen the like and I trust never will again—What a subject for an interlude in a big, great poem—or for a chapter in some great prose work! But it seems a sin to think of it that way—it is too awful—the hundreds of little children and women overwhelmed and suffocated in a moment. The great ship wrecks sink into insignificance before the horror of it. I have written Harned6 to put me down for $5. worth of the banquet book or pamphlet7—guess it will be quite an interesting contribution to the great heap of W.W. literature.8 Nothing new from W.J. Gurd9 and the meter—I guess all is going well but it goes mighty slow. All well here. Rain, rain, rain—has rained now for near a month and still keeps on—raining quite hard the present moment (11.40 a.m.).

Au revoir, dear Walt,
Love to you always
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 10 | 89 | Canada; NY | 6–11–89 | 8 AM | [illegible]; Cam [illegible] | Jun | 11 | 3 PM | 1889 | Rec'd. [back]

2. See Whitman's letters of Bucke of June 4–5, 1889 and June 6, 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. In The Commonplace-Book Whitman recorded his thoughts on the Johnstown flood on June 1, 1889: "The most pervading & dreadful news this m'ng is of the strange cataclysm at Johnstown & adjoining Cambria County, Penn: by wh' many thousands of people are overwhelm'd, kill'd by drowning in water, burnt by fire, &c: &c:—all our hearts, the papers & the public interest, are fill'd with it—the most signal & wide-spread horror of the kind ever known in this country—curious that at this very hour, we were having the dinner festivities &c—unaware." C. H. Browning, the Philadelphia representative of the New York World, was instructed by Julius Chambers to ask the poet for "a threnody on the Johnstown dead," which became "A Voice from Death" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, June 5, 1889). The poem was first published in the New York World on June 7, 1889. [back]

6. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

7. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration on May 31, 1889 in Camden, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]

8. See 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]

9. 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]


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