Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 7 January 1890

Date: January 7, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07331

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.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Breanna Himschoot, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



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Superintendent's Office
Asylum
for the Insane
Ontario
London, Ont.,
7 Jan 18901

I have your note of last Saturday and Sunday enclosing McKenzie's note2 and Carpenter's3 photo. The latter is good and very welcome. That piece on "Old Poets &c"4 ought to be good. There is one "old poet", at least, whom you shd know about by this time. I fear you are not having a good time, old friend, with that miserable stupid feeling all the time. We too here are having quite a time of our own. Something like 60 or 70 per cent of the (so called) sane people about the institution more or less sick. 2 out of the 4 doctors in bed nearly every one at my house sick. (But nothing dangerous about the disease so we can afford to laugh at it). Wm Gurd5 has been here a week sick all the time, still quite sick tho' out of bed and on the mend. If "La Grippe" attacks the patients (a few of them have it now) in the same percentage as the employees we have a cheerful time ahead of us

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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: London | AM | JA 8 | 90 | Canada; N.Y. | 1-8-90 | 930AM; Camden, N.J. | Jan | 9 | 3PM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. McKenzie is likely William P. McKenzie, "a young admirer who sent his first book" to Whitman. See McKenzie's October 10, 1889 letter to Whitman. [back]

3. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature." For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. "Old Poets" appeared in the North American Review in November. See Whitman's October 10, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

5. 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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