Life & Letters


About this Item

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

Date: December 24, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07513

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:253–254. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stephanie Blalock, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Ian Faith

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Dec: 24 '88

Continue easier & freer from the former afflictions—only extremely weak (but not so bad as ten days ago)—bowel action to-day—am sitting up (get up ab't 9 & take a partial bath—Ed2 makes a good fire all warm first)—perfect day, sunny, promising fine for to-morrow Christmas—I have just written a little (poem) piece & send it off to the Critic tonight3—Of course I will send it to you soon as it is printed—(a bit of a new tack, this time, something of the Dick Deadeye4 turn)—Yours came this mn'g & was welcome—I enclose a cheery letter5 from Ernest Rhys6—it has done me good—Happy New Years to you, Mrs: B & all the childer7

Walt Whitman

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: Dr R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario Canada. It is postmarked: Camden | Dec 24 | 8PM | 88. [back]

2. 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. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

3. Whitman is almost certainly referring to his poem "To the Year 1889," which would be published in the Critic on January 5, 1889. [back]

4. Dick Deadeye is a character in the 1878 comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; the character is a sailor on the crew of the British warship, and he is both a villain and a hard-eyed realist. [back]

5. Whitman may be referring to Ernest Rhys' December 12, 1888, letter to Whitman. [back]

6. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]


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