Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 23 March [188]9

Date: March 23, [188]9

Whitman Archive ID: syr.00043

Source: Walt Whitman Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library, Syracuse, N.Y. 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), 112. 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, Caterina Bernardini, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock




[London, Ont.,]1
23 March [188]9

Yours of 21st2 just to hand with card from Mrs O'Connor.3 The latter is gloomy, indeed we must not expect much good news from that quarter, I had a note from O'C's Dr, Dr Hood,4 which I enclose, it shows a bad state of things.5 O'C.6 may go on a long time but that is hardly to be expected or desired—we much make up our minds to his death or worse—for should he live much longer his life would necessarily become a burden to himself and others. I do not like to write this way but I think you ought to know my candid opinion. The case was bad enough before the development of the epeleptoid attacks [/] now it is simply desperate. That is as far as we can see—beyond and outside of that is another story and I have no doubt (as you have so well taught) that all is well provided for and is as it should be. We must have faith and keep cool whatever comes or goes.

The weather here today is perfect, like Mary7—warm, bright, lovely, and I am enjoying it. Yes, I have enough to do it that is a good thing (suppose it is) but I often wish (we are never content you see) for a little more freedom and leisure—but if I had them I guess I should not be a bit more satisfied.

I shall be glad (very glad) to get a few copies of that McKay8 picture—I hope thay will make a good job of it. The 1864 picture you gave me the other day is setting up on the bookshelf at my right hand looking at me in the most friendly way

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. Horace Traubel's note, "see | notes | March 26 | 1889," appears in the upper left-hand corner of the recto. The reference is to Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, March 26, 1889[back]

2. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of March 21, 1889[back]

3. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Dr. T. B. Hood was O'Connor's physician, and he wrote to Richard Maurice Bucke, one of Whitman's own physicians, about O'Connor's declining health. Bucke would forward the letter he received from Hood to Whitman later in March 1889. When Horace Traubel and Bucke went to Washington, D.C., in early March to visit O'Connor, Bucke met with Dr. Hood and discussed O'Connor's condition. See Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, March 2, 1889. Later, Whitman discussed Hood's letter and O'Connor's condition with Horace Traubel. See Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, March 26, 1889[back]

5. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, March 26, 1889[back]

6. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. This is likey an error in Artem Lozynsky's transcription. Bucke likely wrote "May" instead of "Mary." [back]

8. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–2. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the publisher Whitman had originally contracted with for publication of the volume, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, and Complete Prose Works. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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