Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 12 November 1889

Date: November 12, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07726

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: Braden Krien, Ashlyn Stewart, Zainab Saleh, Brandon James O'Neil, Andrew David King, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden1
just p m Nov: 12 '89

Bright sunny day—y'rs came last evn'g2—expect Mrs. O'C3 now, en route for Wash'n—Shall try to get out in wheel chair4 a little to-day—nothing very different in my affairs or condition—pretty dull & heavy as I sit here mostly alone (left to latent resources, but somehow get along)

Evn'g—Had a good hearty massage5 at 1 & went in wheel chair soon after 2—quite a jaunt—went to the bank—went down to the river side—sun, river & sky fine—sat 15 minutes in the Nov. sun—find my head & bodily strength pretty low yet (no improvement)—I like my sailor boy nurse6—I cannot move without his help—my grub to-day rice-and-mutton broth, bread, and stew'd prunes—appetite fair—feeling pretty fair as I sit here just after 6—(it is dark here now by 5)—bowel action not bad—this head botheration (heaviness, stiffness, half ache) unintermitted—at times quite bad—but consider myself blessed to have it all as well as I do—You fellows in the Asylum must have gay times—God bless you all—


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 Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: CAMDEN, N.J. | NOV 12 | 8 PM | 89; [illegible]; 1; 1; LONDON | [illegible]M | NO 14 | 89 | CANADA; PHILADELPHIA PA | NOV | 12 | 9 PM | 1889 | TRANSIT. [back]

2. It is uncertain which letter Whitman is referring to here. [back]

3. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae 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]

4. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

5. Whitman's nurse at the time, Warren Fritizinger, regularly gave the poet massages. [back]

6. 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. [back]


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