Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 7–[8] December 1888

Date: December 7–[8], 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07557

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 Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, Stephanie Blalock, and Ashlyn Stewart



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Camden
Evn'g—Dec: 7 '881

Am better & less better from time to time—worse the afternoon & evn'g—or the reverse—But I feel better of the bladder trouble, wh' has been my worst affliction this past week—the voiding of water is more normal—& I have good or partially good nights, the last three, & prospect forthcoming, wh' is a great blessing to me. I am in good spirits—Ed2 has gone to the p o for me,—Horace3 comes in & tells me the binder Oldach4 promises some finish'd copies (cheap binding) of the big book"5 next Monday (10th)6—So Tuesday I will send you one by mail—T B H7 comes in a few moments—Mrs: H8 gets on first rate—& the baby is immense9

Saturday noon Had a pretty fair night—the painful irritation, spasms, &c have mainly stopt & I am feeling decidedly easier, freer—rose ab't 1½ hours ago—have had my partial bath, & quite a decided breakfast—have rec'd a note from Dr Osler,10 proposing that a recommended Dr Walsh11 shall come over daily & sort o' take charge—Of course I shall be glad to see Dr W—but I am in hopes the worst of the gland ailment is over—& that Osler looking in every week as hitherto will do well enough—yours of 6th rec'd12 & welcomed—I am getting along better than you might suppose—To have the trilogy13 definitively done is a very great relief, for I had quite set my heart on putting it in shape & completion, wh' is now done, thanks, deepest thanks, to Horace Traubel—As I finish towards 4 the day has pass'd fairly well with me, & prospect good for night—


Walt Whitman


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: Dr R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Dec 8 | 8 PM | 88; Philadelphia | Dec | 8 | 9 PM | 1888 | Transit; N.Y. | 12-9-1888 | 9 AM | 6; London | PM | DE 10 | 88 | Canada; London | PM | DE 10 | 88 | Canada. [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. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [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 mid-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. Frederick Oldach was a German bookbinder whose Philadelphia firm bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume that included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The nearly 900-page 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. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. Philadelphia publisher David McKay published the book in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

6. Whitman sent letters to Frederick Oldach on November 27, 1888 and December 4, 1888[back]

7. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel, was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Augusta Anna Traubel Harned (1856–1914) was Horace Traubel's sister. She married Thomas Biggs Harned, a lawyer in Philadelphia and, later, one of Whitman's literary executors. [back]

9. Herbert Spencer Harned (1888–1969) was born on December 2, 1888. [back]

10. 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]

11. Dr. Walsh was the brother of William S. Walsh (1854–1919), an American author and editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. Richard Maurice Bucke arranged to have him accompany Dr. William Osler to see Whitman, since Bucke believed it would be useful to have a younger doctor examine the poet. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, December 5, 1888[back]

12. See the letter from Bucke to Whitman of December 6, 1888[back]

13. Whitman is referring to Complete Poems & Prose, which contained three books (Leaves of Grass, Specimen Days and Collect, and November Boughs). [back]


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