Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 22 October 1891

Date: October 22, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08177

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.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Zainab Saleh, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot



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Medical Superintendent's
Office.
INSANE ASYLUM
LONDON ONTARIO1
22 Oct 1891

Beemer2 is away on holidays, Barber3 sick in bed—Ross4 and I have to get along best we can—I gave my first lecture Monday, give another Saturday Morning. Three lectures are two hours each so that they each one use up a lot of material. You may judge that I have no idle time on my hands. I have your cards of 18th & 20th—thanks!5 Yes, I wrote Costelloe6 about a month ago re the Morse7 head8—asked him to have it sent to Dr Johnston,9 Bolton, unless it was in the hands of some one who cared for it—have not heard from him since. Had a letter from Wallace10 (dated Camden 20th) this morning—he is a good fellow and a true man and friend—I think very highly indeed of him—

So long! dear Walt
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: [illegible] | [illegible] | OC 22 | 91 | CANADA.; CAMDEN, N.J. | OCT 2 [illegible] | 4 PM | 91 | REC'D. [back]

2. Dr. N. H. Beemer was in charge of the "Refractory Building" at Bucke's asylum and served as his first assistant physician. Whitman met Beemer during his visit there in the summer of 1880. See James H. Coyne, Richard Maurice Bucke: A Sketch (Toronto: Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 1906), 52. [back]

3. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

4. Bucke may be referring to Margaret Alexandria Ross, an employee of the Asylum. [back]

5. See Whitman's letters to Bucke of October 18, 1891 and October 20, 1891. [back]

6. Benjamin Francis Conn ("Frank") Costelloe (1854–1899) was an English barrister and Liberal Party politician. He was the first husband of Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945), a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." [back]

7. Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 105–109. [back]

8. Bucke is referring to one of the four plaster busts of Whitman that were sculpted by Sidney Morse. See Whitman's October 20, 1891, letter to Bucke. [back]

9. 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]

10. 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]


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