Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 22 December 1890

Date: December 22, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07135

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

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Jan 20 1891.," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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Medical Superintendent's
Insane Asylum
London Ontario
22 Dec 18901

The best letter I have had for a long time was one this moment received written by Dr. Mitchell jr.2 to Horace3 and forwarded me by the latter. This letter gives an acct of the analysis of your water and according to it your kidneys are absolutely sound. There is nothing at all wrong with your water works except the enlarged prostate and the irritation consequent upon it. Your main difficulty is that on account of the enlargement of the prostate the bladder is not entirely emptied at any time—the urine retained undergoes decomposition and causes irritation—now what is wanted is that a catheter should be passed morning and evening and all the water drawn off (in this way) twice a day. This would have to be done by a doctor for a time but there is no reason whatever that Warran4 should not learn to do it as well as any doctor after being instructed and provided with a proper catheter. I shall hope to hear that this matter is put upon a proper footing at once and after this is done I have every confidence that I shall hear of your being more comfortable than for a long time back.

All well here—glorious weather—but alas! our snow is gone and we have to use wheels again.

All quiet with the meter5—too quiet! We do not get on nearly as fast as I should like but if we go slow I have confidance that we are going sure and now that I am relieved about your kidneys I have good hopes you will be with us to have the "good time coming"

R M Bucke

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 | DE 22 | 90 | Canada; Camden, N.J. | Dec | 24 | 6AM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. During Dr. William Osler's absence, beginning on July 8, Whitman was attended by Dr. J. K. Mitchell, son of S. Weir Mitchell (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, July 8, 1888). For Whitman's opinion of the young man, see Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, July 12, 1888[back]

3. 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]

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. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]

5. 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]


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