Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Edward Wilkins, 29 April 1890

Date: April 29, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00952

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:43. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
April 29 1890

Dear boy Ed:

Y'rs rec'd1—Enclose this little billet to Mrs: Spaulding2—(I have lost the address)—Ed, I feel a little easier f'm my long grip—just ate my supper & relish'd it—was out an hour in the wheel chair3 this afternoon—quite warm—Warren4 & Mrs. Davis5 well—Harry6 pretty well (he has sold out the grocery)7—Horace Traubel8 comes regularly—I expect Dr Bucke9 ab't May 12—my legs even a little feebler (fell down to-day)—have many visitors, invitations &c (some to swell dinners) all declined with thanks & respects—

As I write it is nearly sunset (days are getting quite long here) & I am sitting up here in the old den, same old heavy timber'd cane seat chair, & pretty much the same as when you was here—

Good bye, Ed, for the present & God bless you, boy—
Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
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.

Notes:

1. This letter may not be extant. [back]

2. Ada H. Spaulding (b. 1841), née Pearsons, was a socialite and active member of various reform-movements and women's clubs. She served as the President of the Home Club of East Boston and was a member of the Women's Educational and Industrial Union. She married Ebenezer Spaulding, an Assistant Surgeon during the Civil War, and, later, a homeopathic physician and surgeon who practiced in Boston. Ada Spaulding read and admired Whitman's poetry, visited the poet, and wrote him a number of letters in his final years. For more on Spaulding, see Sherry Ceniza, "Women's Letters to Walt Whitman: Some Corrections," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 9 (Winter 1992), 142–147. [back]

3. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

4. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. [back]

5. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (b. 1858) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in a December 13, 1876, letter to John H. Johnston), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. In 1884, Harry married Eva Westcott. For further discussion of Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. The Staffords ran a country store near their farm in Laurel Springs, New Jersey. Whitman mentions the Stafford family's store in his letter to Thomas Nicholson of March 17, 1881[back]

8. 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]

9. 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). [back]


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