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Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 26 July 1891


I am so much occupied with the meter3 and a lot of other things including work on our W. W. book4 that I can not write as often as I shd like—but you will be far away wrong if you think there is any other reason for my comparative silence. But something has gone wrong with the Smiths5 and I may as well tell you first as last. Neither they nor the Costelloes6 have asked me loc_zs.00458.jpg to visit them and when I dined at the Costelloes on Friday and gave Mrs C. your messages to her and the Smiths she never answered me and never asked a question about you. But do not let all this worry you, dear Walt,—there are a few of us left and we will be a legion when the right time comes. My only feeling in the matter is one of intense curiousity. Why shd they shift about in this weathercock fashion? At Bolton I saw a letter from Mr Smith7 to Johnston8  loc_zs.00459.jpg thanking J. for his "notes"9 and in that letter he expressed himself as being very much your friend. Why should he write to J. that way if he had ceased to be your friend? J. is a stranger to Mr. S & he had no temptation as far as I can see, to pretend anything to him. I have had some talk with H. B. Forman10 (I am writing from his home) on the subject. (F. is your friend through & through) & he thinks that Mrs S.11 & Mr Costelloe12 are responsible for the coolness—be this as it may the coolness itself is a solid fact. I have not so far accomplished anything in meter matters but the parties who are looking into it seem much interested—I may do something yet before I leave England or I may only pave the way for future business. Give my love to Horace13 and say to him that I will write him soon.—My trip is agreeing with me and I am as well and hearty as possible

Best love to you R M Bucke  loc_jm.00355.jpg

P.S. your card of 14th14 is this moment to hand am well pleased that you seem to keep about the same—no worse I judge anyhow—Give my love to Horace—will write him soon but I tell you I am pretty busy!

RMB  loc_zs.00460.jpg see notes Aug 3 1891  loc_zs.00461.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: CAMDEN, N.J. | AUG | 2 | 9AM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]
  • 4. Horace Traubel and Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke were beginning to make plans for a collected volume of writings by and about Whitman. Bucke, Traubel, and Thomas Harned—Whitman's three literary executors—edited In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), which included the three unsigned reviews of the first edition of Leaves of Grass that were written by Whitman himself, William Sloane Kennedy's article, "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman," and Robert Ingersoll's lecture Liberty in Literature (delivered in honor of Whitman at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall on October 21, 1890), as well as writings by the naturalist John Burroughs and by James W. Wallace, a co-founder of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship in Bolton, England. [back]
  • 5. Bucke is referring to Whitman's Philadelphia Quaker friend Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898), an evangelical minister, and his wife Hannah Whitall Smith (1832–1911). Whitman had a close relationship with the Smiths and their children; the family moved to England in 1888. For more information on 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]
  • 6. The Costelloes were Benjamin Francis ("Frank") Conn Costelloe (1854–1899) and Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945). Frank was Mary's first husband, an English barrister and Liberal Party politician. Mary was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about her, 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]
  • 7. Bucke is referring to the evangelical minister Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898). [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. Johnston published (for private circulation) Notes of Visit to Walt Whitman, etc., in July, 1890. (Bolton: T. Brimelow & co., printers, &c.) in 1890. His notes were also published, along with a series of original photographs, as Diary Notes of A Visit to Walt Whitman and Some of His Friends, in 1890 (Manchester: The Labour Press Limited; London: The "Clarion" Office, 1898). Johnston's work was later published with James W. Wallace's accounts of Fall 1891 visits with Whitman and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke in Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1917). [back]
  • 10. 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]
  • 11. Bucke is referring to Hannah Whitall Smith (1831–1911), the wife of Robert Pearsall Smith. [back]
  • 12. Bucke is referring to the Smiths' son-in-law, Benjamin Francis ("Frank") Conn Costelloe (1854–1899). [back]
  • 13. 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 late 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]
  • 14. See Whitman's postal card to Bucke of July 14, 1891. [back]
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