Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 10 August 1891

Date: August 10, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08166

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 annotation, "Visit to Tennyson," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "see notes August 20 & 21st 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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49 Comeragh Road1
West Kensington
London W.
10 Aug '91

On Saturday I went again to the Smiths3 at Haslemere. Mrs C.4 was (and is) away on the Continent (Mr C.5 too). I had plenty of talk with Mr, Mrs, and Alys6 & Logan S.7 Logan desired me to send his love to you he is very friendly to you, Mr S. only moderately so & Mrs & A.S. not at all as far as I can find out. Mrs C. I believe is in her heart friendly but "for reasons" she says nothing—this matter is too delicate to write about even to you but I will tell you all when we meet abt. 2d or 3d Sept. When I returned to town today I found your letters & card of 24th, 26th & 29th8 and a couple of letters from H.9 besides letters from home &c. I am well pleased to see that you keep, if not fairly, at least not markedly worse and I hope to find you "right side up with care" on my return about 2d Sept. (not a very long time now). I have the "Lip." and find that the "Dinner Piece"10 comes out well—I think it as good an ad. as we have had. But the main thing I want to talk about to you today is my visit yesterday to Lord Tennyson.11 I was (as I have said) at Mr S.s and he sent me with a man & buggy to L. T.s place some 5 ms. away. I drove thro' one of the wildest and most beautiful pieces of country (in a drizzling rain) that I have seen anywhere, hills, woods, brush, everywhere, but with splendid English roads to drive on. Got to T.s place (a fine almost stately mansion) a little before 4 P.M. got out, rang the bell—a footman opened the door, I gave him your letter and my card & said "please give these to Lord Tennyson." He left me in the hall and disappeared in the house—soon he came back and conducted me into a room on the ground floor to the left of the main hall—I went in and sat down—in a few minutes a quite young looking and handsome man came in—he held out his hand to me and said "good day to Dr B." I shook hands with him saying at same time "you are Hallam Tennyson?"12 He said he was and we had a little talk—then after saying that "his father" was sleeping—that he always lay down for a couple of hours in the afternoon & would not be up until 5 O'C. he asked me if I would wait—I said certainly I would wait if he thought L. T. would see me. He said "I don't know, but I would like you to wait" then he asked me if I would step in and see Lady T.13 I said I shd be very happy to do so. He took me to the next room where L. T. was lying on a sofa—a very pale & delicate but a very spiritual, intellectual & pleasing face. I sat down by her sofa and we talk for a good half hour about Canada & the Canadians—about the late sir John Macdonald,14 about Carlyle15 & Mrs C.16 (she said they were not understood, that Froude's book17 did them injustice—that they were plenty attached to one another &c. She said she had seen Mrs C. once when some disparaging remark was made about C. burst into tears) and other things—then Hallam asked me to go with him upstairs to see Mrs Tennyson18—I went (of course)—Mrs T. is a very young looking and almost beautiful woman with an air of considerable distinction—she received me in a half stately but very kind manner and we had quite a little talk. (I had been at least half an hour with Lady T. and it was now nearly 5 O'C.) A little before 5 Hallam asked me to go with him to Lord T.s room—I did so. I found L. T. in a large room on the first floor (up one stair, as yours is) containing bookshelves and many books—he was sitting on a sofa and as I went in did not see me so as to know who was there —in fact when I went up to him he thought I was Hallam—I spoke to him and took his hand (which he thought strange thinking I was H.) however he soon realized who it was and there welcomed me. We then talked with perfect unconstraint for an hour. T. is not much for compliments, very blunt and downright—he spoke of you with much good feeling but my reception at the house, by the whole family, was a far greater compliment to you than a volume of soft phrases would have been.

None of the Tennyson's I imagine (I had hardly any talk about L. of G. except with Hallam who spoke very freely and pleasantly on the subject) have read you so as really to understand you or what you are after—but have read you enough to know in a more or less vague way that you are a great force in this modern world. Had I been introduced to the Tennysons by the greatest prince in Europe they could not have received me more courteously, nor had I been a near relative could they have shown me greater friendliness—all this of course was for your sake since they did not know of me by name even. But after all I fear I can give you but a faint notion of the pleasure my visit was to me. The Smiths had said that T. was old and queer and that he certainly would not see me—that perhaps H. would see me &c, &c, &c. So that I was totally unprepared for the reception they gave me. And the Smith's seemed as much surprised as myself when I went back and told them about it. T.s presence is imposing but does not make as strong an impression of great personality as I expected. He is still handsome but so shortsighted that his eyes have little expression. He is not nearly so reserved, careful and dignified in conversation as I looked for—says (with somewhat rapid enunciation) whatever comes uppermost—said (for instance) "there—I have caught you in an Americanism" and then pointed out the phrase. Said "I hate that word 'awfully' they might as well say 'bloody' at once—they both mean the same". Then showing a lot of pictures & busts of self and family (different members) done by Ward19—Millais20 &c. &c. he said: "The best of it is they never cost me a penny—they were all done for nothing."

I am asked to go back to the Smith's but probably shall not as time is getting short. I sail 26th inst. & must leave London for the north about 20 or 21, Mr Costelloe is to be back in town tomorrow and then we see what is to be done about the meter.21 I have the Danish W. W. piece22 translated—am now at Knortz'23 have a lot of work to do yet—give Horace my love and show him this letter—tell him to keep it, I may want to see it again as I have no other record of the T. interview. Tell him it must not get out on any account, that would never do.

Best love to you dear Walt,
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: WEST KEN [illegible]; PAID | A | ALL; New [YORK] | AUG | 19; CAMDEN, N.J. | AUG | 20 | 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. 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]

4. 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]

5. Benjamin Francis Conn Costelloe (1854–1899), Mary's first husband, was an English barrister and Liberal Party politician. [back]

6. Alyssa ("Alys") Whitall Pearsall Smith (1867–1951) was born in Philadelphia and became a Quaker relief organizer. She attended Bryn Mawr College and was a graduate of the class of 1890. She and her family lived in Britain for two years during her childhood and again beginning in 1888. She married the philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1894; the couple later separated, and they divorced in 1921. Smith also served as the chair of a society committee that set up the "Mothers and Babies Welcome" (the St Pancras School for Mothers) in London in 1907; this health center, dedicated to reducing the infant mortality rate, provided a range of medical and educational services for women. Smith was the daughter of Robert Pearsall and Hannah Whitall Smith, and she was the sister of Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945), the political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." [back]

7. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was an essayist and literary critic. He was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith, a minister and writer who befriended Whitman, and he was the brother of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, one of Whitman's most avid followers. For more information on Logan, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. See Whitman's postal cards to Bucke of July 24, 1891, July 26–27, 1891, and July 29–30, 1891[back]

9. 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]

10. Horace Traubel's article "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891," was published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in August 1891. It offered a detailed account of Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday, which was celebrated with friends at the poet's home on Mickle Street. [back]

11. 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]

12. Hallam Tennyson (1852–1928) was the eldest son of the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Hallam was educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Cambridge. He served as the personal secretary and biographer of his father, and he was made the Governor of South Australia in 1899. Four years later, he began serving as the second Governor-General of Australia, a position he held until 1904. He spent the last years of his life in Farringford, serving as the deputy Governor of the Isle of Wight from 1913. [back]

13. Emily Sarah Sellwood, Lady Tennyson (1813–1896), was born at Horncastle, Lincolnshire, England, and she was the eldest daughter of Henry (1782–1867) and Sarah Sellwood. Following her marriage to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, she served as a business manager and secretary for her husband, in addition to taking on the responsiblities of running large households. She was the mother of two sons, Hallam (1852–1928) and Lionel Tennyson (1854–1886). She also wrote hymns, set some of her husband's poetry to music, and assisted Hallam in writing a memoir of her husband. [back]

14. Sir John Alexander Macdonald (1815—1891), of Scotland, was a lawyer and the first prime minister of Canada. He was a Conservative and served as prime minister for a total of nearly twenty years. [back]

15. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985). [back]

16. Jane Baillie Welsh Carlyle (1801–1866) of Haddington, East Lothain, Scotland, was known for her letter-writing abilities. She died suddenly in 1866 as the result of a stroke or heart attack. [back]

17. James Anthony Froude (1818–1894) was an English historian, biographer, and editor of Fraser's Magazine. Froude was also a close friend and literary executor to Thomas Carlyle, after whose death Froude published a biography entitled Life of Carlyle, which described Carlyle's intellectual accomplishments as well as his personal failings, in particular his unhappy relationship with his wife, Jane Welsh. Froude had previously published Jane's writings in Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle in 1883 to much protest from Carlyle's surviving family, and his biography of Carlyle emphasized his conflicted marriage for contemporary readers. For more on Froude, see Ciarán Brady, James Anthony Froude: An Intellectual Biography of a Victorian Prophet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). [back]

18. Audrey Georgiana Florence Boyle Tennyson (1854–1916) of Sussex, England, married Hallam Tennyson (1852–1928) in 1884. She moved to Adelaide, Australia, in 1899 after Hallam was made Governor of South Australia. She became known for her letter-writing and her efforts to advocate for better pay and working conditions for women employed the garment industry. She went on to found the first maternity hospital in South Australia. [back]

19. The identify of this artist is uncertain. Bucke may be referring to the British painter Edward Matthew Ward (1816–1879). [back]

20. John Everett Millais (1829–1896) was an English painter and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of artists. Millais illustrated many of Tennyson's poems and painted a portrait of the poet as well. [back]

21. 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]

22. 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]

23. Karl Knortz (1841–1918) was a German translator who, with Thomas J. Rolleston, translated Leaves of Grass into German (Grashalme, 1889). Bucke is referring here to Knortz's long 1882 essay in German on Whitman, published as a monograph in the U.S. in 1886. [back]


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