Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 23 June 1891

Date: June 23, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08155

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 notes: The annotations, "trunk | Claxton Remsen & Haffelfinger," and "Fitzgerald," are in an unknown hand. The annotation, "see notes June 25 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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



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Medical Superintendent's
Office.
INSANE ASYLUM
LONDON ONTARIO1
23 June 1891

I am making all arrangements to leave here on the afternoon of Sunday 5th July for New York en route for England.2 I should like well to see you before sailing but do not see how I well can as I cannot well leave here before Sunday 5th, must have a while in N.Y. to see Dane3 re meter4 matters in America and the boat sails 7 a.m. wednesday. I hope to see something of the Smiths5 in England as well as the Costelloes6 and shall makefull reports of all W.W. matters. Hope, too, to see Wallace7, Johnston8 & the Bolton folks.9 If you would give me a line to Tennyson10 I would try and see him too just for a short call—it would be something to look back upon when I am (if I live to be) an old, old fellow.—

We had a splendid rain yesterday and I have never seen a more perfect day than this is after it. Temperature (in my office) 70° sky deep blue, not a cloud, a gentle breeze waving the trees and shrubs, all the grounds bright and fragrant with roses and syringas: it seems a sin to leave here and I believe I would fully as soon stay but business (especially meter business) must be attended to

Best love to you
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 | JU 23 | 91 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | JUN | 25 | 4PM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. As Bucke's letters to Whitman and Horace Traubel in May and June 1891 make clear, he planned to travel abroad in order to establish a foreign market for his gas and water meter. [back]

3. John Dane, Jr., was the lawyer Bucke retained to look after meter interests in the U.S.; his office was at 261 Broadway, New York City. [back]

4. 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]

5. Bucke is referring to Whitman's Philadelphia Quaker friend Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898), an evangelical minister, and his wife Hannah Whitall Smith (1832–1911). Whitman had a close relationship with the Smiths and their children; the family moved to England in 1888. For more information on Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. The Costelloes were Benjamin Francis ("Frank") Conn Costelloe (1854–1899) and Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945). Frank was Mary's first husband, an English barrister and Liberal Party politician. Mary was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about her, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. 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]

8. 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]

9. The "Bolton College" was a group of Whitman admirers located in Bolton, England. Founded by Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) and James William Wallace (1853–1926), the group corresponded with Whitman and Horace Traubel throughout the final years of the poet's life. 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). 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]

10. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]


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