Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 17 May 1891

Date: May 17, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08108

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes May 22 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, Jason McCormick, and Brandon James O'Neil



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Medical Superintendent's
Office.
INSANE ASYLUM
LONDON ONTARIO1
17 May 1891

I have your note of 14.2 Also letter enclosed therewith from Dr. Johnston3—thanks for it,4 I found it most interesting. The "Goodbye" parcel5 has not reached me yet—I hope it may tomorrow—I am most eager to see it. I fear you are not mending in health very fast and that you are having a bad time. Am counting on seeing you inside of two weeks6 if (as seems likely) this lameness will let me7, but at present getting about is painful and troublesome.

I am reading some and writing some and altogether am having a good time—the grounds and country are beautifull and drive about and enjoy that greatly. The work of starting the meter8 too is becoming interesting and I am looking forward with much pleasure to my proposed trip this summer across the Atlantic9

Always with 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 | AM | MY 18 | 91 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | MAY | 19 | 6PM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of April 14, 1891[back]

3. Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) of Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, was a physician, photographer, and avid cyclist. Johnston was trained in Edinburgh and served as a hospital surgeon in West Bromwich for two years before moving to Bolton, England, in 1876. Johnston worked as a general practitioner in Bolton and as an instructor of ambulance classes for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways. He served at Whalley Military Hospital during World War One and became Medical Superintendent of Townley's Hospital in 1917 (John Anson, "Bolton's Illustrious Doctor Johnston—a man of many talents," Bolton News [March 28, 2021]; Paul Salveson, Moorlands, Memories, and reflections: A Centenary Celebration of Allen Clarke's Moorlands and Memories [Lancashire Loominary, 2020]). Johnston, along with James W. Wallace, founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Johnston, see Larry D. Griffin, "Johnston, Dr. John (1852–1927)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. In his April 14, 1891, letter to Bucke, Whitman sent a letter he had received from Dr. John Johnston of Bolton, England to Bucke as an enclosure. The enclosure may have been Johnston's letter to Whitman of May 6, 1891[back]

5. In Whitman's letter to Bucke of May 14, 1891, the poet writes that Horace Traubel has just sent Bucke "a full set (66p) 'Good-Bye' annex." Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Bucke meant that he was planning to visit Whitman on or around May 31, 1891—Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday. The occasion was celebrated with friends at Whitman's home on Mickle Street. [back]

7. In his April 13, 1891, letter to Whitman, Bucke writes that his foot, which had been sore for a couple of weeks, had become inflamed. Bucke's foot was still healing, and is the reason for his lameness. [back]

8. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]

9. As Bucke's letters in May and June 1891 both to Whitman and Horace Traubel make clear, he was going abroad to establish a foreign market for his gas and fluid meter, a subject to which he referred constantly in his communications but which the poet studiously ignored. [back]


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