Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 16 February 1890

Date: February 16, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07340

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, Breanna Himschoot, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



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Superintendent's Office
Asylum
for the Insane
Ontario
London, Ont.,
16 Feb 18901

All quiet here.

I have been looking over Browning's2 last volume this morning—"Asolando."3 I like it—it is good stuff. After W.W. he is the "Grand Optimist": That is to say (in one very important respect) the Grand Man.

Still no winter and I have about given up all idea of getting ice from our own waters here—it is a remarkable season—as "Tennesee's Partner"4 says "I disremember anything like it." The amount of sickness and the number of deaths have been unprecedented. I guess however we are over the worst of it.

I have just had dinner and am going out to the chapel (in five minutes) to attend Catholic service—

Affectionately
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 | FE 17 | 90 | Canada; Received | Feb | 18 | 1130AM | 1890 | [illegible]; Camden, N.J. | Feb | 18 | 3PM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. 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]

3. Asolando (1889) is collection of Browning's last poems. Bucke had long been a reader of Browning, and at one time he had even thought of writing on the poet. Bucke had acquired The Ring and the Book (1868–69) as it came out in parts. On February 19, 1869, he wrote Harry Buxton Forman:

"I have been so excessively busy this year . . . that I have not yet read Browning's new poem, that is the parts of it that I have viz. I. & II. and I do not think I shall read it at all now except an occasional dip into it until I get the rest of it—I know from what I have seen of it that it is a great work" (For this letter, see the collection at the D. B. Weldon Library, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario). Gradually, Bucke became involved in the work (see letters to H.B. Forman of May 16, 1869 and April 1–13, 1870), and on August 9, 1870, he wrote Harry Buxton Forman: "I shall probably have a go at the 'Ring and Book.' Also shall perhaps find time to elaborate my theory as to the guilt of Pamphilia of which I am firmly persuaded. Mind you, in speaking of this matter I take for granted that everything that Browning says about her is the exact truth and that this is all we do or can know about her. Browning himself, according to my hypothesis, may or may not think her guilty. He is merely a faithful reporter of the evidence in the case and can only have an opinion about it just like anybody else. I consider it a mighty pretty subject for an essay and feel greatly tempted at times to try and get up something rather effective on the subject" (For this letter, see the collection at the D. B. Weldon Library, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario). [back]

4. Bucke is referring to Bret Harte's "Tennessee's Partner" (1869), a tale of California miners, known in the story simply as "Tennessee" and "Tennessee's Partner," who say at one point, "It's a hot night. I disremember any sich weather before on the Bar." Bucke may have come across this expression in his own mining days in California. [back]


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