Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 5 December 1888

Date: December 5, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07555

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), 4:243. 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, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

5½ P M
Dec: 5 '88

Drs: Osler2 and Wharton3 have been here—it is as we tho't the enlarged prostrate gland incident is senilia—A short visit not much talk4—Wharton was very good—what gravity there may be in it time &c will show—At present it causes me any am't of annoyance & sometimes severe continued pain—Last night was kind of half and half—had some sleep—have had my supper (some rice pudding, stew'd apple, & a cup of tea)—

The big book5 is being bound, the cheap form—I will see ab't the postage—I want you to have three or four copies at once—& I shall decide whether to send by express, or p o—Did I send you the slip enclosed? I don't know how, but it got left out "Sands at Seventy"6—No word yet f'm O'Connor7—You will get a letter sent to the fellows, to reach up with you ab't four days yet8—(nothing of any acc't)—poor Kennedy9 works like a house a fire—sends me a letter occasionally—the Transcript paper regular—Mild & pleasant here—I am sitting in the room alone finishing this—

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 | Aslyum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Cam(?) | Dec 5 | 8 P(?) | 88. [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. Dr. Wharton, a friend of Sir William Osler, was one of several physicians who served as medical advisors to Whitman in his final years. [back]

4. For more on this visit, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, December 5, 1888[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. [back]

6. Whitman enclosed "Shakspere-Bacon's Cipher," as Bucke noted on December 7, 1888 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, December 9, 1888). It was included in Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). [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. See Whitman's letter to Kennedy, Burroughs, O'Connor, and Bucke of December 3-4, 1888[back]

9. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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