Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 1 May 1889

Date: May 1, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07612

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 The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:328. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Caterina Bernardini, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock

May 1 '891

Well the N Y show2 goes over to-day in a blaze of glory, & Barnum's great circus comes in here at noon & exhibits to night—(Ed3 goes—I am favorable)—& besides Dr Baker4 "graduates" this afternoon—you know he is my first nurse—last June—& Osler5 makes the address—indeed I believe two of 'em—things ab't same as before with me—

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. | May 1 | 8 PM | 89. [back]

2. Whitman is referring to the three-day celebration of the centennial commemorating the inauguration of George Washington. [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. Frank Baker (1841–1918) was an American anatomist from New York. Before his illustrious medical career, he served in the 37th New York Volunteers (1861–1863) and then transferred to Washington, D.C., for government service, where he became intimately familiar with Walt Whitman and John Burroughs. After receiving a medical degree from Columbia University, he served as professor of anatomy at Georgetown University, assistant superintendent of the United States Life Saving Service, and president of numerous biological and medical societies, among them the Anthropological Society of Washington. He also edited American Anthopologist and authored several medical monographs, including two papers on President Garfield's assassination and several articles on the history of medicine and anatomy. For more on Baker, see Howard Atwood Kelly and Walter L. Burrage, A Cyclopedia of American Medical Biography (Baltimore: The Norman Remington Company, 1920). [back]

5. 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]


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