Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 12 January 1891

Date: January 12, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08193

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.

Notes for this letter were derived from The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Jan 14 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Ryan Furlong, Jason McCormick, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Medical Superintendent's
Office.
INSANE ASYLUM
LONDON ONTARIO1
12 Jan. 1891

Your good letter of 7th2 reached me Saturday evening—I mean the one written on the back of Stoddarts3 and enclosing a note4 from Kennedy5—Yes, even a momentary feeling of strength such as you speak of is good and welcome—shows there is strength back yet—I am much rejoiced that you are able to give so good a report and look for other good reports to come after this one.6 This morning comes yours of 9th and 10th7 enclosing J.A. Symonds8 splendid letter of 22d Dec. and Dr Johnston's9 of 27th same month.10 All most welcome—My arm gets on well,11 am beginning to sleep pretty well again without any sedative Am in the office and attending to business down town and at asylum as usual only yesterday being pretty tired I stayed whole day at home and had a good rest. We have some more snow and good sleighing again. I will send you back Symonds letter in a couple days—sure want a copy made of it first—you never sent me that other Symonds letter!12


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: LONDON | PM | JA 12 | 91 | CANADA; CAMDEN,[N.J.] | JAN | 14 | 3 PM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of January 7, 1891[back]

3. Joseph Marshall Stoddart (1845–1921) published Stoddart's Encyclopaedia America, established Stoddart's Review in 1880, which was merged with The American in 1882, and became the editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1886. On January 11, 1882, Whitman received an invitation from Stoddart through J. E. Wainer, one of his associates, to dine with Oscar Wilde on January 14 (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 235n). [back]

4. It is uncertain which letter Whitman is referring to here. [back]

5. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Whitman had reported on his improved health and strength in his January 7, 1891, letter to Bucke. [back]

7. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of January 9–10, 1891[back]

8. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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. With his letter of December 27, 1890, Dr. John Johnston had enclosed a typescript copy of Symonds's letter thanking him for sending Notes of a Visit to Walt Whitman (1890) (The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York UP, 1969], 5:148–149n11). For a complete transcription of the letter, see The Letters of John Addington Symonds, Volume 3: 1885–1893, ed. Herbert M. Schueller and Robert L. Peters [Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1969], 530–531. [back]

11. Bucke described this accident in a December 25, 1890, letter to Whitman's disciple and biographer Horace Traubel: "I had a fall last evening and dislocated my left shoulder (it was the right arm last time, three months ago)." This letter is held in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. It is reprinted in Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, December 27, 1890[back]

12. Bucke may be referring to Symonds's August 3, 1890, letter to Whitman. [back]


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