Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 10 January 1890

Date: January 10, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07332

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "See note Jan. 13 '90," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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.,
10 Jan 18901

Yours of 7th2 to hand last evening. It was (as always) heartily welcome. Yes, you are living on your ancestry at present,3 if that had not been A.1, W.W. would have been under the sod fifteen months ago—at least. I was real glad to get Miss Alys'4 letter to you, re Mrs Costelloe,5 and to see by it that Mrs C. was in better health. I was also glad to get the cutting re Browning6 who seems to have been a mighty fine fellow.7 I shd like to know whether he was really of Jewish stock (as they say) I think it more than likely I believe that is the greatest stock of all and am never surprised to find that it is an element in a great man. Well, we still have La Grippe here though things are mending a little with us. The doctors are all out of bed again but are a long way from up to par yet. There are still many members of the staff (attendants &c) who are sick or half sick. I hope hope however we are over the worst of it. Willy Gurd8 is mending, is able to sit up now. The children are mostly better but some of them ailing yet. I have opened an infirmary for 40 patients—20 men and 20 women—within the last few days—this has been making a little extra work lately so that La Grippe struck us in a bad time—but we will worry along and after a little we shall get into daylight again.

your friend
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 11 | 90 | Canada; N.Y. | 1-12-90 | 11 AM | 9; Camden, N.J. | Jan | 13 | 7AM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. See Whitman's January 7, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

3. Bucke is responding to a comment from Whitman's January 7 letter. [back]

4. Alyssa ("Alys") Whitall Pearsall Smith (1867–1951) was born in Philadelphia and became a Quaker relief organizer. She attended Bryn Mawr College and was a graduate of the class of 1890. She and her family lived in Britain for two years during her childhood and again beginning in 1888. She married the philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1894; the couple later separated, and they divorced in 1921. Smith also served as the chair of a society committee that set up the "Mothers and Babies Welcome" (the St Pancras School for Mothers) in London in 1907; this health center, dedicated to reducing the infant mortality rate, provided a range of medical and educational services for women. Smith was the daughter of Robert Pearsall and Hannah Whitall Smith, and she was the sister of Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945), the political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." [back]

5. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Robert Browning (1812–1889) was an English poet known for his dramatic monologues, including "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess." Browning was also the husband of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861). [back]

7. See Whitman's December 13, 1889 letter to Bucke, where the poet notes Browning's death and asks for Bucke's thoughts. [back]

8. 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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