Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 1–2 November 1889

Date: November 1–2, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07722

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

Contributors to digital file: Braden Krien, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Friday 8 P M Nov. 11

—Been in the room here of course all day—y'rs rec'd—of Ed's2 safe arrival3—& call on you—is the packet of prints in good order? I have sent letter & some prints to R P Smith,4 Eng:—send you papers & letters quite freely but not much in either—Have been looking over Nov. Century—lots of poetry! in it—a good wood eng: (T Johnson5) of Esop, f'm photo of pt'g by Velasquez6 (Spain)—wonderfully good, I look'd at it, frontispiece, for ten minutes7—By what the fellows (experts) tell me who have travel'd in Spain I guess there is no portrait-painting existing any better than V's—

Nov. 2 toward noon—cloudy & dark & rain looking—buckwheat cakes & honey for breakfast—bowel action—Herbert G[ilchrist]8 here last evn'g rec'd from Century (& sent back) proof of my little 8 line poemet "Old Age's Ship & Crafty Death's"9—Have you rec'd the dinner10 books11? How does that print of Morse's12 bust seem to you?13

1/2 past 2—still dark & raining—had a good pummeling an hour ago—& shall have another at 9 evening—My sailor boy14 is first rate at it—he gives me the best curryings of all—goes into it (as the great painter Corot demanded his pupils to go to work) with conscience—Am sitting here the same—weather temperature mild—(I am half sweating a good deal of the time)—

God bless you all—

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 Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, NJ | Nov 2 8PM | 89; Philadelphia | Nov 2 | 9 PM | 1889 | Transit. There is also a "Transit" postmark from New York and a London Ontario Canada postmark, but neither are fully legible beyond these locations. [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 referring to Bucke's letter of October 30, 1889[back]

4. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Thomas Johnson (1843–1904) worked as an engraver in Brooklyn, New York. He did engravings of Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, and the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ("Johnson, Thomas," Benezit Dictionary of Artists [Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 2011]). [back]

6. Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázques (1599–1660) was a greatly admired European painter best known for his portraits and his impact upon artists, particularly in the nineteenth century (Everett Fahy, "Velázquez (1599–1660)," Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History [New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003]). [back]

7. The frontispiece Whitman is referring to is "Head of Æsop, by Velázquez." [back]

8. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Whitman's poem "Old Age's Ship and Crafty Death's" was published in the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine in February 1890. [back]

10. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

11. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in Camden, on May 31, 1889, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]

12. Sidney H. Morse was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an early bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 57–84. [back]

13. Whitman is asking about the frontispiece of Traubel's Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (1889). [back]

14. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]


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