Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 31 July 1891

Date: July 31, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08164

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 August 10 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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London England2
31 July '91

Your card of 21st3 came to hand last evening and I am well pleased that you seem to jog along about the same in health and strength—I trust now that you will go through the summer in pretty fair style. I have been at work at the British museum on the Danish piece4 this & yester day afternoon—a Danish scholar there reads it for me in English (literal translation) and I scribble it down with a pencil. In 4 ½ hours work we have done over half of it.

There is nothing new to report abt. the meter.5 All goes (apparently) well but I do not expect to accomplish anything more at present than to pave the way for the establishment of the business later. I have just received an invitation from Mrs Costelloe6 to accompany her to the country (Hazelmere) next Sunday evening. I have gladly accepted as I am most anxious to have my impressions as to the attitude of the Smiths7 towards you either confirmed or contradicted. So far I am still persuaded that what I wrote you the other day8 (in re Smiths & Costelloes9) was & is correct. But I shall refer to this again when I write you after being in Hazelmere. I may have a chance to call on Tennyson10 while down there, we shall see.11

What with the meter, the lecture for McGill College Montreal, and the W. W. book12 I am not getting exactly a holiday but I enjoy it all & am as well as can be—guess the trip will do me all the more good for having something to occupy and interest me while away and keep me from getting homesick! I wrote Horace13 this morning.

Best love to you
R M Bucke

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).


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey | U.S. America It is postmarked: KILBURN | C A | JY31 | 91 | N.W.; PAID | H | ALL | 91; CAMDEN, N.J. | AUG | 10 | 6AM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. At this time, Bucke was traveling abroad in England in an attempt to establish a foreign market for the gas and fluid meter he was developing with his brother-in-law William Gurd. [back]

3. See Whitman's postal card to Bucke of July 21, 1891. [back]

4. Bucke is referring to Rudolf Schmidt's "Walt Whitman, det amerikanske," which had been published in For Ide Og Virkelighed 1 (1872), 152–216. It was translated in part by R. M. Bain and Bucke for inclusion in Bucke, Horace Traubel, and Thomas Harned, eds., In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 231–248. [back]

5. 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]

6. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945), daughter of Hannah Whitall and Robert Pearsall Smith, was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about Costelloe, 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. 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]

8. See Bucke's letter to Whitman of July 26, 1891, where he reports that "something has gone wrong with the Smiths" and that they no longer consider themselves to be Whitman's friends. [back]

9. 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. [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]

11. Whitman wrote a letter introducing Bucke to Tennyson. The manuscript letter, which Whitman addressed to Tennyson and dated June 26, 1891, may not be extant. The only known copy of this letter is a transcription made by Bucke. Whitman enclosed the letter of introduction in his June 26, 1891, letter to Bucke. [back]

12. Horace Traubel and Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke were beginning to make plans for a collected volume of writings by and about Whitman. Bucke, Traubel, and Thomas Harned—Whitman's three literary executors—edited In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), which included the three unsigned reviews of the first edition of Leaves of Grass that were written by Whitman himself, William Sloane Kennedy's article, "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman," and Robert Ingersoll's lecture Liberty in Literature (delivered in honor of Whitman at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall on October 21, 1890), as well as writings by the naturalist John Burroughs and by James W. Wallace, a co-founder of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship in Bolton, England. [back]

13. 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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