Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 22 January 1891

Date: January 22, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07909

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: Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, and Andrew David King



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Medical Superintendent's
Office.
INSANE ASYLUM
LONDON ONTARIO1
22 Jan 1891

Yours of 17th2 came, I believe, 19th in ev'g. Next day I was away from early m'n'g to late night at Toronto and Hamilton seeing the inspector and the Provincial Secretary re case Ross v. Bucke.3 They do not consider me in any way to blame and the government will assume the case paying all costs and damage—but meantime we shall appeal to a higher court and try to get the verdict set aside. There is no manner of doubt that the verdict was a most outrageous breach of justice, and even (I believe) of law. Nothing was done or said by me that ought not to have been done and said. If I did not repeat every word in a similar case happening say tomorrow it would not be because I ought not but because I would be afraid to do what was right for fear of getting into trouble.

Thanks for enclosing Stoddart's4 letter5 and especially for the little piece called "The Pallid Wreath"6 which I find one of the most touching little poems I ever read.

I am glad to hear that at time of writing you were not suffering so much but it is plain that you are not, on the whole, having a good time. I wish—and wish—but can do little enough. I can find no fault with your diet and I agree with you that you ought to eat a fair quantity—do not believe that anything like abstinence would be good for you—only make you uncomfortable for nothing. My greatest comfort is that from Horace's7 accounts you seem and look well and that being the case however you may suffer your condition cannot be out & out serious

As always Love
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 | PM | JA 23 | 91 | C[ANA]DA. [back]

2. Bucke is referring to Whitman's letter of January 17, 1891[back]

3. Bucke was sued for defamation of character by a former female employee of the London Asylum whom he had fired. [back]

4. Joseph Marshall Stoddart (1845–1921) published Stoddart's Encyclopaedia America, established Stoddart's Review in 1880, which was merged with The American in 1882, and became the editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1886. On January 11, 1882, Whitman received an invitation from Stoddart through J. E. Wainer, one of his associates, to dine with Oscar Wilde on January 14 (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 235n). [back]

5. Bucke may be referring to the letter Whitman had received from Joseph M. Stoddart on January 13, 1891.  [back]

6. "The Pallid Wreath" was published in the Critic on January 10, 1891; the poem was also reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). [back]

7. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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