Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 7 December 1889

Date: December 7, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07737

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Saturday 1 P M
Dec: 7 '891

Bright sunny perfect day—have just been out an hour or two, a drive in a smooth cab in the rural roads & to Harleigh Cemetery2—enjoy'd it well—was out early last evn'g to Tom Harned's3 to supper & to meet Prof: Cope4 & others—Herbert Gilchrist5 there—am feeling fairly, but extremely lame & feeble—get out largely for the change wh' is important—Short jaunts, & the eating & drinking in moderation (I have not forgotten)—So Jefferson Davis6 is dead—the papers to day are full—he stands, will remain, as representative for a bad even foul move—& himself a bad & foul move—that's the deep final verdict of America's soul—had my currying &c: to-day (since above written)—last night & to-day perfections of weather, sky, &c.—I stopt the chair last evn'g & look'd at the full moon & clouds & brightness a long time—

Am sitting here alone in my den—one bunch of flowers on the table at my left & another on the right—& Warren7 my nurse downstairs practicing a violin lesson. Prof: Cope (above) gave a lecture last evn'g in Unitarian Ch. here on the "Descent of Man"—(a pretty formidable theme)—they say a good lecture—I came home here at 8—can't find a cutting f'm the London "Piccadilly"8 I desired to enclose—so I put in an old letter f'm Kennedy9

Regards & love to you & Mrs: B10 & all—
Walt Whitman

Alys Smith11 here to-day—Mary's12 trouble is f'm the eyes13

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, N.J. | Dec 8 | 6 PM | 89; Buffalo, N. Y. | Dec | 8 | 11AM | 1889 | Transit; London | AM | DE 10 | 89 | Canada. There is also a Philadelphia postmark, but it is entirely illegible. [back]

2. Whitman was buried in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey, on March 30, 1892, in an elaborate granite tomb that he designed. Reinhalter and Company of Philadelphia built the tomb, at a cost of $4,000. Whitman covered a portion of these costs with money that his Boston friends had raised so that the poet could purchase a summer cottage; the remaining balance was paid by Whitman's literary executor, Thomas Harned. For more information on the cemetery and Whitman's tomb, see See Geoffrey M. Still, "Harleigh Cemetery," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), 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). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

4. Edward Drinker Cope (1840–1897) was a naturalist and editor of American Naturalist[back]

5. 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]

6. Jefferson Davis (1808–1889) was a politician who served as the President of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, during the Civil War. He died on December 6, 1889. [back]

7. 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]

8. Whitman forgot that he had sent Rolleston's November 10, 1889, letter and the clipping to Ellen M. O'Connor on November 23, 1889[back]

9. Whitman may be referring to William Sloane Kennedy's letter of January 11, 1888 (erroneously dated 1887 by Kennedy). [back]

10. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]

11. Alys Smith (1867–1951) was a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith and the sister of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe. She eventually married the philosopher Bertrand Russell. [back]

12. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

13. With his October 28–29, 1889, letter to Bucke, Whitman had enclosed an October 13, 1889, letter from Robert Pearsall Smith, Mary Costelloe's father, in which Smith informed the poet that his daughter "is under a nervous break-down—not suffering much but compelled to great quiet." [back]


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