Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 19 June 1890

Date: June 19, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07351

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, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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Superintendent's Office.
London, Ont.,1
19 June 1890

I am now fairly settled down here for the summer, have pretty well caught up with my work and am looking forward to a pleasant summer. The weather lately is heavenly—just pleasant temperature, pure blue sky with a white cloud floating here and there, a cool fresh breeze blowing. The syringas are coming out and the first roses are showing in the rosebeds. It is the cream of the year and the place has never been quite so beautiful before. If you could only be here for a month! I think I told you that Mrs O'Connor2 gave me a copy of Harrington3—I have read it with the deepest interest—the book shows immense ability but what interested me more than the story was to trace O'Connor4 as he then was in the background of the narrative. I was greatly interested to see that even in '60 he knew his L. of G. He must have had it almost or quite from the first (from '55).

At the back of the book (Harrington) the Thayer & Eldridge5 L. of G. ('60) is advertised, and below another book, by same author, is announced, viz: "Banner at Daybreak."6 Your idea at that time seems to have been to print successive books in the way of the usual writer.

Have just received a letter from my brother Eustace7 of Ottawa containing this comical passage "I was told by a lady here last Sunday that Walt Whitman was living with his wife in a wretched hovel in the States in great poverty and neglect—she supposes that as soon as he is dead they will raise a great monument to him, and spend thousands of dollars on a grand funeral" Eustace laughed at the good lady and relieved her mind upon some of the above points.

Have you written that Preface yet for O'C.'s stories?8

Your friend
R M Bucke

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).


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: London | PM | JU 19 | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | JUL | 20 | [illegible]M | 1890 Rec'd. [back]

2. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. William D. O'Connor's abolitionist novel Harrington: A Story of True Love (Thayer & Eldridge, 1860) was his only novel. Thayer & Eldridge published the novel the same year that they published Whitman's 1860, third edition of Leaves of Grass[back]

4. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Thayer and Eldridge was a Boston publishing firm responsible for the third edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1860). For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge see "Thayer, William Wilde [1829–1896] and Charles W. Eldridge [1837–1903]." [back]

6. Whitman had sent Thayer and Eldridge the text for a full-page announcement of his proposed new volume of poetry,The Banner At Day-Break (though the book was never published). The advertisement discussed here appears at the back of William Douglas O'Connor's Harrington and describes The Banner At Day-Break as "a handsome volume of about 200 pages," including the new poems "Banner At Day-Break," "Washington's First Battle," "Errand-Bearers," "Pictures," "Quadrel," "The Ox-Tamer," "Poemet," "Mannahatta," "The Days," and "Sonnets," plus a "supplement containing criticism." (For a discussion of Whitman's plans for The Banner At Day-Break, see Ted Genoways, Walt Whitman and the Civil War [University of California Press, 2009], 77–103.) [back]

7. Philip Eustace Bucke (b. 1831). His occupation is unknown, but according to Seaborn's "Genealogy of the Bucke family" (MS) Philip Eustace "Left home when 16 . . . crossed ocean 92 times . . . Retired at 55—spent rest of time in making rods & flies." [back]

8. Three of O'Connor's stories with a preface by Whitman were published in Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1892). The preface was included in Good-Bye My Fancy (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891), 51–53. [back]


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