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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 26 June 1891


Hot wave again—am keeping up pretty well—Suppose you rec'd Dr J's2 facsimile of my letter June 13 to him—isn't it curiously perfect?—The report of the birth anni: spree it seems is to go in the August Lippincott4 you can easily get it in Eng:5 & will probably so appear (why so deferr'd doth not appear)—Enc'd y'r introductory to Tennyson6—give him my best regards7 & love—& of course same to Bolton friends8—& indeed to all inquiring friends the other side—(But I shall probably write ag'n before next Saturday)—very dry burning hot weather to-day—

best remembrances & thanks & love as always, dear friend. Walt Whitman  loc_jm.00323.jpg June 26  loc_jm.00324.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: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jun 26 | 6 PM | 91, London | PM | JU 27 | 91 | Canada, Buffalo NY | Jun | [illegible] Philadelphia, P.A. | Jun | [illegible] | 1891 | Transit. Whitman wrote this letter on stationery printed with the following notice from the Boston Evening Transcript: "From the Boston Eve'g Transcript, May 7, '91.—The Epictetus saying, as given by Walt Whitman in his own quite utterly dilapidated physical case is, a 'little spark of soul dragging a great lummux of corpse-body clumsily to and fro around.'" [back]
  • 2. 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 I 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 the architect 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]
  • 3. Bucke would soon receive a facsimile of Whitman's June 1, 1891, letter to Dr. John Johnston of Bolton, England, a co-founder with the architect James William Wallace, of the Bolton College of Whitman admirers. The letter included Whitman's description of his seventy-second birthday dinner. Bucke notes the receipt of the facsimile from Wallace in his June 28, 1891, letter to Whitman. [back]
  • 4. Horace Traubel's article "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891," was published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in August 1891. It offered a detailed account of Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday, which was celebrated with friends at the poet's home on Mickle Street. [back]
  • 5. During the months of July and August 1891, Bucke had traveled 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. While in England, Bucke had visted James W. Wallace, Dr. John Johnston, and their fellow English Whitman admirers. [back]
  • 6. 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. Whitman wrote to Tennyson in 1871 or late 1870, probably shortly after the visit of Cyril Flower in December, 1870, but the letter is not extant (see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 223). Tennyson's first letter to Whitman is dated July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]
  • 7. The manuscript letter of introduction that Whitman addressed to Tennyson and dated June 26, 1891, may not be extant. The only known copy of this letter is a transcription made by Bucke. [back]
  • 8. Whitman is referring to the "Bolton College," a group of Whitman admirers located in Bolton, England. The group was co-founded by Dr. John Johnston and the architect James W. Wallace (1853–1926) of Bolton. [back]
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