Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 23 July 1891

Date: July 23, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08294

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: Lauren Claeys, Amanda Axley, Marie Ernster, and Stephanie Blalock



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46 Marlborough Hill
St Johns Wood
London N.W.
England1
23 July 91

I am staying here with H. Buxton Forman.2 Have been here 3 days now and shall remain untill about this day week. Go then to make a little visit with Alfred [Withers?]3 who is also a very good friend of yours but not as crazy about you as some of us are! I have spent this whole day in the house—there was nothing especial to do outside so I worked at the lecture which I have to give in Montreal4 (to the students there) abt. 1 Oct. I have got the lecture now pretty well under way—I saw Mrs Costelloe5 day before yesterday for a few minutes on the street—I was going to call on her and met her—the same day I saw Mr Costelloe6 for an hour on meter business. I am to see him and some other parties tomorrow about the meter. I hope to see Mr7 & Mrs Smith8 in the course of a week or two and to call on Tennyson9 from there.10 I am to go to Mrs Costelloes to dinner tomorrow evening and expect to meet with Alys11 there. I saw a letter from Mr Smith to a friend the other day in which he spoke quite warmly of you so I guess if he does not write it is only from want of time12—or perhaps his sight is too bad to write much. Any way I will let you know all about it later. I am enjoying my visit here and am feeling first class—but I shall not be glad to get back to America & Canada again when the time comes. I would rather be closer to you and other dear friends. Best love to you dear Walt from your friend


RM 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. 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]

2. Henry Buxton Forman (1842–1917), also known as Harry Buxton Forman, was most notably the biographer and editor of Percy Shelley and John Keats. On February 21, 1872, Buxton sent a copy of R. H. Horne's The Great Peace-Maker; A Sub-marine Dialogue (London, 1872) to Whitman. This poetic account of the laying of the Atlantic cable has a foreword written by Forman. After his death, Forman's reputation declined primarily because, in 1934, booksellers Graham Pollard and John Carter published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, which exposed Forman as a forger of many first "private" editions of poetry. [back]

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

4. Dr. Bucke received his medical degree from McGill University in Montreal in 1862, and he returned there in 1891 at the request of the medical faculty in order to deliver the opening academic lecture, "The Value of the Study of Medicine." The lecture was published in the Montreal Medical Journal 20 (November 1891), 321–345. [back]

5. 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]

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

7. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about 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. Hannah Whitall Smith (1832–1911) was a speaker and author in the Holiness movement in the United States and the Higher Life Movement in Great Britain. She also participated in the women's suffrage movement. She was the wife of Robert Pearsall Smith and the mother of Mary, Alys, and Logan Pearsall Smith. [back]

9. 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]

10. For details of Bucke's visit to Tennyson, see his letter of August 10, 1891, to Whitman. [back]

11. 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]

12. Bucke was at this time visiting England and seeing many of Whitman's friends and admirers there. He had written to Whitman about a surprising chill he sensed whenever he mentioned the poet to the family of Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898), an evangelical minister, and his wife Hannah Whitall Smith (1831–1911), or that of the Costelloes, Benjamin Francis ("Frank") Conn Costelloe (1854–1899), an English barrister, and his wife, Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945), who was a political activist, art historian, and critic. For more on the "coolness" Bucke observed, see Bucke's letter to Whitman of July 26, 1891[back]


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