Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, 15 December 1888

Date: December 15, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07281

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 derived from The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes 12/26/88," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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

I have been for several days in great anxiety about you,2 dear Walt, and am yet though your letter of 13th relieves me a little for it shows me that (as you say) you can write, and I was really afraid you could not3—The big book4 (4 copies) is on its way—I expect to get it this afternoon—if not certainly monday monring—am going to town myself in an hour to ask after the parcel, am very eager to have it. I am very glad Ed.W.5 is with you these bad times instead of Musgrove6—I feel sure Ed. will do Every thing in his power for you. I shall write a special letter as soon as I get the big book. I wish we could hear from O'Connor7 I fear he is in a bad way.

If the thing was possible I should go to Camden and stay with you—but it is not possible so no use talking of it. Perhaps I could do no good if I was there certainly you have a better doctor by far than I am—I mean Osler.8 But it seems to me they do not take the interest they ought.

We are all well here, cold weather but no sleighing yet.

I send my best love
R M Bucke


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 | DE 15 | 88 | Canada; Camden N. J. | Dec | 17 | 6 AM | 1888 | Rec'd. [back]

2. Bucke did not express his real fears to Whitman. On December 14, 1888, he sent Traubel instructions about telegramming him if Whitman's death were imminent. [back]

3. Bucke is referring to Whitman's letter of December 13, 1888, in which Whitman reports having had "another bad spell" and suffering from "extreme debility." [back]

4. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, he made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

5. 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]

6. 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]

7. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. 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]


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