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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 17 February 1890


I was much pleased this morning to get yours of 15th2 and its enclosures, letter from Mrs Costelloe3 & card from Mrs O'C.4 Glad enough to see that you are not materially worse though I fear no better and no more comfortable. Mrs Cs letter is most interesting—she seems to have gone neck and crop into politics. What a curious thing it is (and how fortunate) that whatever we take up with (maybe forced into it) soon becomes (usually at all events) intensely interesting to us. I guess Mr5 & Mrs Costelloe (and friends) are going to reform that old world over there! They will have a whack at it any way and perhaps the trying to reform it is as good as the actual reforming would be! I am scratching away here about as usual—the chief excitement at present is the question of ice, for next summer. We have had no winter & have no ice

R M Bucke  loc_es.00726.jpg  loc_es.00723.jpg  loc_es.00724.jpg

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).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey U.S.A. It is postmarked: London | PM | FE 17 | 90 | Canada; Camden | Feb | 19 | 1 PM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's February 15, 1889 letter to Bucke. Of the two enclosures from Whitman that Bucke mentions, only the postal card from Ellen O'Connor of February 13, 1890, seems to be extant. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) 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 African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. Benjamin Francis Conn Costelloe (1854–1899), Mary's first husband, was an English barrister and Liberal Party politician. [back]
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