Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 3 February 1889

Date: February 3, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00625

Source: The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library. The transcription presented here is derived from Richard Maurice Bucke, The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), 107. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock




[London, Ont.,]
3 Feb [188]9

Your last letter, dear Walt, that of 31st of January,1 is very cheering, it has quite set me up, and really I do not see why you should not go on for quite a while and have a middling good time especially when the pleasant weather comes. I feel more and more that you must get out in the spring and that the new leaves & flowers will be your best medicine. Ed Carpenter's2 piece is good,3 I have written him a line. I have still only looked into Sarrazin's4 piece. Am fairly stuck fast for time to do anything since the fire.5 I will gladly make an abstract of Sarrazin's piece but want to see Kennedy's6 and if that is sufficient there is no need of me doing it over again—we shall see.7 It seems as if the fire and matters arrising out of it will keep Gurd8 and self back still another week. [W]e have set now 18th inst. for our trip East. I trust it will not be delayed beyond that date. I am more than ever anxious to get on with the meter now as Traubel9 is out of a job and I want the meter to furnish him one [—] I have every confidence that it will do so. [—] We have glorious sleighing here now and I am enjoying it greatly, I get out every day about 4.30 till 6. and sometimes (in the way of business) get other drives. Today is charming [.] I should like to be out the whole of it! but I am on duty—no clergiman this morning so I had to preach! I am supposed to know every thing and do every thing and I just put a good face on it and get through the best I can.

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. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of January 31, 1889[back]

2. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature." For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Bucke is referring to Carpenter's review of November Boughs in The Scottish Art Review (see also notes to Whitman's letter to Carpenter of January 16, 1889[back]

4. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. A building had recently burned down on the London Asylum grounds. See Bucke’s letter to Whitman of January 26, 1889. [back]

6. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow 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 [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]

7. Whitman had asked both Kennedy and Bucke to make an abstract in English of Sarrazin's "Poétes moderns de l'amérique, Walt Whitman," La Nouvelle Revue, 52 (May 1888), 164–84 (see Whitman's letter to Kennedy of January 22, 1889, and to Bucke of January 27, 1889). Sarrazin's piece is reprinted in an English translation by Harrison S. Morris in In Re Walt Whitman (1893, pp. 159–194). The letter is discussed in Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, February 5, 1889, and Saturday, February 9, 1889[back]

8. William John Gurd (1845–1903) was Richard Maurice Bucke's brother-in-law, with whom he was designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. Bucke believed the meter would be worth "millions of dollars," while Whitman remained skeptical, sometimes to Bucke's annoyance. In a March 18, 1888, letter to William D. O'Connor, Whitman wrote, "The practical outset of the meter enterprise collapsed at the last moment for the want of capital investors." For additional information, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 17, 1889, Monday, March 18, 1889, Friday, March 22, 1889, and Wednesday, April 3, 1889.  [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]


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