Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 30 March 1891

Date: March 30, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08130

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: Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Andrew David King, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock



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Medical Superintendent's
Office.
INSANE ASYLUM
LONDON ONTARIO
30 March 1891

I have today f'm you—letter of 27th1 enclosing Wallace's2 copy of Symond's3 good letter4—and (better still—if possible) the "Goodbye" poems5—these last I have (so far) barely glanced at but I can see that this is a superb cluster—better I think even than "Sands"6—but I will write more fully of it later—it is marvelous to me dear Walt what power and facination there is still (as much as ever indeed) in your verse while your prose has certainly lost in force, in grip. How is this? is it (I believe it is) that your verse comes f'm something in you—inside the mind—the intellect something perenial—not liable to decay—while your prose rests upon the intellect—the great ganglia—and there feel the affect of time of age?

It is funny Walt that you always call D. Longaker7—D. Foraker—but whatever, you may call or miscall him he is certainly doing you good—at least giving you some relief—may it continue and increase!

My plans at present are to be in Washington (at Med. Supp. Ass. Meeting) April 28 to May 1—then put in May at the seaside & in neighborhood of Phila. and go home 1 June. We shall see if I can carry it out!

Love to you always dear Walt
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. Bucke is referring to Whitman's letter dated March 27, 1891[back]

2. James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (1852–1927), a physician from Bolton, he 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 Wallace, see Larry D. Griffin, "Wallace, James William (1853–1926)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Wallace received a letter from Symonds dated March 7, 1891. He made a copy or copies of the letter and sent one to Whitman, who then sent the copy to Bucke. For a copy of Symonds's letter in Wallace's hand, see the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The letter is located in Box 18; Reel 11, along with Wallace's letters to Whitman. [back]

5. 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 is referring to "Sands at Seventy," a group of late poems that Whitman had included in November Boughs (1888) and then included as an "annex" to Leaves of Grass starting with the 1889 printing of the book. For more information, see Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Sands at Seventy' (First Annex) (1888)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Daniel Longaker (1858–1949) was a Philadelphia physician who specialized in obstetrics. He became Whitman's doctor in early 1891 and provided treatment during the poet's final illness. For more information, see Carol J. Singley, "Longaker, Dr. Daniel [1858–1949]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R.LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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