Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 30 November–1 December, 1888

Date: November 30–December 1, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07553

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), 4:240–241. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

Nov: 30 1888

A bad spell again—Wednesday was the worst—the light indeed was faintly fluctuating several times—but here I am yet—poor enough now but less non-myself—Osler2 was here last evening—He does not apparently think any thing serious—at least nothing new—nothing but we knew before—The worst is this inveterate horrible costiveness—then the water works give me great annoyance & trouble—my strength, equilibrium, power to stand up of my own volition & mastery are quite gone—Ed3 is very good—I gave him your little message4—he has just helped me to the closet, where I tried an injection of soaped warm water but no result at all—One thing is I have not eaten any thing for three days—to day three or four mouthfuls & a cup of coffee for breakfast—At present moment I am sitting in the big chair at the stove alone writing—weather cloudy half-&-half—not cold—

Your good letter came this morning—I am having some copies of the big book5 covered in paper & I will send you one, (perhaps two or three) at once—as there is some delay ab't the permanent binding—Yes I shall be hard to suit with the binding of the b[ig] b[ook]—As I finish the sun bursts out as if it meant to stay awhile strong & clear—I am going to stretch out on the bed (rest, tide over, lay fallow, & such—are probably my best remedies to meet these spells)—

Saturday, sunset. Dec 1—Last night bad & sleepless—up forty to fifty times—water-works irritation, scalding—I have been lying on the bed most of the time, but am now sitting here by the stove—declining light—rather pleasant weather—not cold—no word of O'C[onnor]6

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, N.J. | Dec 1 | 8 PM | (?). [back]

2. 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 Philip W. Leon, 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]

3. 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]

4. See Bucke's letter to Whitman of November 28, 1888. He writes: "Remember me to Ed. Wilkins, tell him that every thing goes quietly along here since he left us." [back]

5. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman 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, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]

6. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. 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]


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