Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 24 October 1888

Date: October 24, 1888

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes Oct 26, 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07239

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Alex Ashland, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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Superintendent's Office.1
ASYLUM FOR THE INSANE
LONDON. ONTARIO
London, Ont.,
24 Oct 1888

I have heard from Wm Gurd.2 All goes well in N.Y. except that our lawyer has been sick, he is better and the work of taking out the patents will go on now with all convenient speed. Cannot tell yet positively when I shall go East but rather expect sometime next week. There is no doubt Dr Osler3 thinks you are doing well or he would be over oftener, if he thought you failing or very ill he would not neglect you I am sure. He is an exceptionably able man and we must admit (whatever we may think or feel) that he knows as much about your condition as any one does (including yourself). I do not hear good accounts of your present nurse (Musgrove)4 and I have just written to Horace5 about a young man whom I can freely recommend who is willing to go from here and take the place. His name is Edward Wilkins,6 I know you would like him, he is a real good, nicelooking young fellow, I have known him some years—he is as good as he looks. I expect to hear from Horace at once on this business—I hope you will approve of the change, I am sure you will be pleased with it when made.

Affectionately
RMBucke


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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey | U.S.A. It is postmarked: LONDON | PM | OC 24 | 88 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | OCT | 26 | 6 AM | 1888 | REC'D. [back]

2. 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]

3. Sir William Osler (1849–1919) was a Canadian physician and one of the four founding staff members of Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he served as the first Chief of Medicine. Richard Maurice Bucke introduced Osler to Whitman in 1885 in order to care for the aging poet. Osler wrote a manuscript about his personal and professional relationship with Whitman in 1919; see Walt Whitman and Sir William Osler: A Poet and his Physician [Toronto: ECW Press, 1995]). For more on Osler, see Philip W. Leon, "Osler, Dr. William (1849–1919)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on the relationship of Osler and Whitman, see Michael Bliss, William Osler: A Life in Medicine (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999). [back]

4. W. A. Musgrove replaced Dr. Nathan M. Baker as Whitman's caregiver on July 15, 1888. Musgrove was far less satisfactory than Baker. Traubel noted that "Musgrove is a cloudy man. I asked how M. got on. W. evaded the question by some general remark. . . . He [Musgrove] is only a nurse—not a doctor" (Horace Traubel, ed., With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, July 16, 1888). Yet, Whitman later described Musgrove as "kind active & considerate all through" (See the letter from Whitman to Bucke of November 3–4, 1888). [back]

5. 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]

6. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]


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