Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 27 March 1890

Date: March 27, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07344

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 notes 3/30/90," 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.,
27 March 1890

I have yours of 23d1 (posted 24th) it came to hand last evening, it and also Mrs Costelloe's2 (accompanying it) were heartily welcome. Am glad that you seem to be no worse—but what is this about Harry Stafford?3 I fear from what you say he is in a bad way, but what is it?4 It has been a terrible winter all about here for sickness and deaths and I guess it is no better your way from what you say—I want to know if there is any prospect of you giving a lecture on or about 15 April5—if there is I shall try to be on hand. If I go I shall probably spend a day or two in Phila', then a day or two in Baltimore, a day or two in Washington and a few days at the seaside (Atlantic City perhaps) just to get a little change and a mouthful of fresh sea air. Did I tell you that we have arranged for the money to get tools to make the meter? I think Gurd6 will go east for the tools about 2d April and will be back here with them (I hope) early in June—so far all looks well for the meter and if it actually turns out according to appearance at present I may be a better off man after this year in which case I hope to see more of you and (if that is possible) do more for you. Mrs Bucke7 and little Pardee8 are still in Sarnia, they are having a good time and it is doing them good I guess—All quiet here, plenty of work, but as long as we can do it we must not grumble at that—still, if I had my own way I would have a little less work and a little more rest

I hope to see you before very long and am, with love, 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. See Whitman's March 23, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

2. See Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe's March 14, 1890, letter to Whitman. [back]

3. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (b. 1858) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in a December 13, 1876, letter to John H. Johnston), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. In 1884, Harry married Eva Westcott. For further discussion of Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Harry Stafford suffered from a number of health problems. Whitman had written to his former nurse Ed Wilkins on March 20, 1890, that Stafford was "quite sick—has fits of being out of his mind." Bucke would have been particularly interested in Stafford, who had worked as a turnkey at the London Asylum from late November 1883 to March 8, 1884 [back]

5. It had been Whitman's custom in the past years to deliver a lecture on Lincoln on or about April 15, the day of Lincoln's assassination. See Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1955), 483–484, 491–492, 524, and 525. See also Whitman's March 23, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

6. 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]

7. Jessie Maria Gurd (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Jessie married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]

8. Bucke is referring to his son Edward Pardee Bucke (1875–1913). [back]


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