Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: December 24, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07329

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, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Superintendent's Office.
Asylum
for the Insane
London.
Ontario
London, Ont.,
24 Dec 18891

Yours of 18, 20, 212 enclosing letters from Rhys3 and Burroughs4 came to hand this afternoon5 and was welcomed as usual. I rather envy Rhys meeting Henry Harland6—H.H. is a man I have considerable admiration of and I shd like well to meet him. I am well pleased that you like your present nurse7 so well and hope he will stick to you and to the massage business which is the great thing for you. Eldridge8 (I suppose your old publisher of 1860—29 years ago!) must be a pretty old fellow to be getting married? But they say "there is no fool like an old fool!" He probably knows his own business best, any how! Is the "Harleigh Cemetery"9 which you mention that one which we used to pass driving out to the Staffords?10 If so it must be a pleasant place—well laid out and planted by now.

Well Xmas is round again! I can hardly believe it. There is no time of the year I like to get over so well as Xmas and New Years—thank goodness this week and next will fix them! I have some writing to do if I could only get at it but there is so much turning up all the time (all requiring to be looked after) that I almost despair of doing anything. Should the meter11 turn out O.K. I wonder if a poor devil would have more time or less? Well we must scratch along best we can while we are here. I wonder how it will be on our next stage? Shall we still have to toil and moil, work and fight as here? or will the Lord give us a rest?

Love to you dear Walt
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 | PM | DE 26 | 89 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Dec 27 | 4PM | 1889 | Rec'd. [back]

2. See Whitman's letter of December 18, 1889. Whitman's letters to Bucke of December 20 and 21, 1889 may not be extant. [back]

3. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Bucke may be referring to Burroughs's letter of December 17, 1889 and Rhys's of December 7, 1889[back]

6. Henry Harland (1861–1905) was the American novelist and co-editor with Aubrey Beardsley of The Yellow Book, a British quarterly literary magazine (1894-1897). Bucke's admiration must be understood in terms of Harland's early novels, such as A Jewish Musician's Story (1885), a local color description of German Jews in Manhattan. [back]

7. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate.  [back]

8. Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903) was one half of the Boston-based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who issued the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. In December 1862, on his way to find his injured brother George in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Walt Whitman stopped in Washington and encountered Eldridge, who had become a clerk in the office of the army paymaster, Major Lyman Hapgood. Eldridge eventually obtained a desk for Whitman in Hapgood's office. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge, see David Breckenridge Donlon, "Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903)." [back]

9. Whitman was buried in Harleigh Cemetery, in Camden, New Jersey, on March 30, 1892 in an elaborate granite tomb that he designed. Reinhalter and Company of Philadelphia built the tomb, at a cost of $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, 1998).  [back]

10. Susan and George Stafford were the parents of Whitman's young friend, Harry Stafford. Whitman often visited the family at their farm at Timber Creek in Laurel Springs (near Glendale), New Jersey, and was sometimes accompanied by Herbert Gilchrist; in the 1880s, the Staffords sold the farm and moved to nearby Glendale. For more, see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]


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