Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 4 August 1891

Date: August 4, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08165

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 14 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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



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4 Aug. 91
KINGSGATE,1
CRICKLEWOOD, N.W.2
London, Eng.

Sunday (day before yesterday) I went with Mrs Costelloe3 from London to Hazelmere. I am confident they had not intended asking me but for some reason they did. Mrs C. was very nice indeed and I like her as much as ever, neither do I believe that she has altered towards you really, but for some reason she is silent on the subject—she did not speak of you at all though we were much together and share of every thing else—I avoided the subject waiting to see if she would begin upon it. Once she asked me what I was doing in the British Museum—I said "Working at some translation" She wanted to know what translation. I told her something from the Danish4 for a book some of us were about to bring out. "Well what was the book about?" I said "about Walt Whitman" She said "oh" and did not pursue the subject. I spent yesterday morning with Mr Smith5—he did not speak of you except a very few words. I gave him your message—he scarcely seemed to hear it. Still I believe he is friendly to you in his heart. Mrs S. is not friendly she is the only one who said anything actually unfriendly—she did not say much but it was significant. I did not call on Tennyson6 as it was too late when I got to Hazelmere & too early when I left the next day but I am to spend Saturday after noon and Sunday there and Mr Smith will take me to Tennyson's. I do not however expect to see T.7

All goes well, I am hearty and having a good time but shall be glad to get back and see my American & Canadian friends again

Love to you always
R M Bucke

Show this to Horace8 RMB9


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. America. It is postmarked: LONDON [illegible] W | 8 [illegible] 6 | AU 4 | 91 | [illegible]; NEW YORK | AUG | 14; A | 91; PAID | D | ALL; CAMDEN, N.J. | AUG | 14 | 9AM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. During the months of July and August 1891, Bucke traveled 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. On the trip, he spent time with Dr. John Johnston and James W. Wallace, the co-founders of the Bolton College of Whitman admirers. Bucke also visited the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. [back]

3. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, 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]

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 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. 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]

7. Bucke did in fact meet with Tennyson and described the meeting in detail in his August 10, 1891, letter to Whitman. [back]

8. 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]

9. Bucke has written this postscript on the first page of the letter, under the date. [back]


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