Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 18 July 1891

Date: July 18, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08162

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, "July 28 See N. 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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Bolton, Lancashire1
18 July '91

I am really at a loss how to begin this letter or how to write it. My reception here2 has been such that I am absolutely dumbfounded. I got here about noon yesterday (I ought to say that I had a telegram at Queen's town from Johnston3 to say that Wallace4 & he would meet me at L. pool if I wd let them know the time of my arrival, but I did not think it well to give them that trouble & came through alone)—Johnston & Wallace met me at the Station. It was a fine day and I went around the town with Dr J. while he made his daily visits. Sat in the carriage while he went in the houses. We went to a hotel to dinner—then 8 of us went for a 20 mile drive through as picturesque a country as I have seen any where—had tea 8 miles from here with another Whitman friend (Rev. Thompson5) then he came to Bolton with us. By this time it was after 8 o'clock and on reaching Johnston's house we found half a room full of men waiting for us—from then to midnight was constant talk, songs, recitation, supper, and good fellowship generally. You are right to say that the Bolton friends are true and tender—they are that and if there are any stronger words you may use them! Most of the evening I laughed and the rest of it I could have cried their warmhearted friendship for you and for me was so manifest and so touching. I enclose6 a song which they had composed & set to music and which the whole room sang together in the middle of the evening—of course I made a speech of thanks and two other quite long speeches in the course of the evening—and I really spoke quite decently! a wonderful thing for me. You will of course, dear Walt, show this letter to Horace7 as there is no use my writing it over again to him.

I trust you are no worse than usual—and that I shall find you to the fore when I return in September.

Nothing to tell about the meter yet.

Wallace slept here last night, he and Johnston desired me to say that they might not have time to write you today and wished me to give you their love and assure you of their devotion to you and the cause—and indeed, Walt, it looks as if the thing had come here to stay—I was to say, too, to you & Warry8 that the canary9 had come safe—not even the glass cracked! And that it was warmly appreciated. And I want you to tell Mrs Davis10 that they all know her here and feel very friendly towards her.

I think I have said all I can say at the present moment—will soon write again

I send you my love, dear Walt, and sign myself yours till death
R M Bucke

P.S. I read the message from you to the boys11 here (in your letter of early July12) yesterday evening—the boys were very much affected by it—they have taken the letter from me to facsimile that part of it so that they may each have a copy

RMB

If it were even possible for you to come to England the fellows would go clean crazy about you.

Sung to "The March of the Men of Harlech" Welsh National air

The College Welcome to Dr. Bucke

17 July 1891

Comrade—stranger, glad we greet you,
One and all are pleased to meet you,
Cordial friendship here shall treat you,
Whilst with us you stay.
Friend of Walt! Be that the token,
That enough our hearts to open,
Though no other word be spoken
Friends are we alway.
Friendship let us treasure,
Love to greatest measure,
Comrades true our journey through:
Life's thus made a pleasure.
Hail! to Whitman, lover's poet!
There his portrait. All well know it
To the world we gladly show it
Proud his friends to be.
Doctor Bucke. Walt's brave defender,
Thanks to you we gladly tender
Noble service did you render
To our hero's fame.
You, his chosen "explicator,"
"Leaves of Grass's" indicator,
You, his life's great vindicator
Honoured be your name.
Health to Walt and glory!
Long live the poet hoary!
Noble life through peace and strife
Immortal be his story!
Let us cherish his example
Kind, heroic, broad and ample,
Be our lives of his a sample
Worthy friends prove we.

——————————
W. Dixon.

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: BOLTON | 55 | JY18 | 91; BOLTON | 55 | JY18 | 91; NEW YORK | JUL | E; PAID; CAMDEN, N.J. | JUL | 28 | 6AM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. When Wallace wrote this letter, he was visiting the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke at Bucke's home in London, Ontario, Canada. Wallace had traveled to the United States from Bolton, England, landing at Philadelphia on September 8, 1891 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, September 8, 1891). After spending a few days with Whitman, Wallace traveled with Bucke to Canada. [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. 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]

5. Reverend Samuel Thompson was the last resident minister of the Rivington Unitarian Chapel; he served as the minister from 1881 to 1909. He hosted and provided entertainment for the Eagle Street College group (later known as the Bolton College and the Bolton Fellowship)—a literary society established by James W. Wallace and dedicated to reading and discussing Whitman's work—when they celebrated Whitman's birthday each May 31st. [back]

6. The enclosed song appears to be written in the hand of Wallace. [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]

8. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. [back]

9. When Whitman's canary died, Warry (Whitman's nurse) and Mrs. Davis (Whitman's housekeeper) had it stuffed and placed on the mantle beneath a photograph. According to Dr. Johnston's letter on May 19–20, Warry had apparently suggested that the poet give it to the Bolton group. Bucke duly took it with him when he went to England, and on July 23 the co-founder of the Bolton group of Whitman admirers, James W. Wallace thanked Whitman for "a very affecting & precious souvenir of you to me." On August 3 he wrote to Mrs. Davis: "I need not to tell you how deeply I prize it. It is a very precious & affecting souvenir of Mr. Whitman—of his lonely room, his thoughts & memories, & the cheer received from the canary's (also caged imprisoned) joyous warblings. It connects itself with memories of my mother's like condition—her only companion often a canary too." See the letter from Wallace to Mary Davis in the Papers of Walt Whitman (MSS 3829), Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, Albert H. Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia. See also Johnston and Wallace's Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917), 60–61n. [back]

10. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. 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]

12. Bucke may be referring to Whitman's letter of July 5–6, 1891[back]


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