Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 12–13 December 1890

Date: December 12–13, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07860

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, Ian Faith, Zainab Saleh, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Dec: 12 early P M

—Bright & coolish—pleasant—Warren2 has gone over to Dr Mitchell's3 with urinary specimen4—have the belly ache plain enough early in the morning in bed—& then during the day subsides or is quite gone—a bit of chop & some bread & tea for my breakfast—dull heavy head—yr letters rec'd5 & welcomed—sit here in den as usual

Dec 13—got out yesterday 1½ P M in wheelchair6 but was too chill'd & made it short—cold weather here—Keep good fire—just my breakfast bit of broil'd chicken, cranberries & bread & tea—eat light—appetite middling (to poor)—mark'd symptoms of cold in the head to-day—write this early in forenoon

P M—bad day—neglected here badly—cold—probably chill'd (badly) f'm sitting here in cold room—am feeling sick & cross & unattended to here & probably feel ugly enough—sun shining out

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, N.J. | Dec 14 | 5 PM | 90; London | DE 15 | [illegible]0 | Canada, Buff [illegible]. [back]

2. 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]

3. Dr. John Kearsley Mitchell II (1859–1935) was the son of S. Weir Mitchell, the noted American physician and writer of historical fiction; the young Mitchell looked in on Whitman when his regular physician, William Osler, was unavailable. Whitman was not overly impressed with the Mitchells: "The young man Mitchell did not take me by storm—he did not impress me. I start off with a prejudice against doctors anyway. I know J. K.'s father somewhat—Weir: he is of the intellectual type—a scholar, writer, and all that: very good—an adept: very important in his sphere—a little bitter I should say—a little bitter—touched just a touch by the frosts of culture, society, worldliness—as how few are not!" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, July 12, 1888). [back]

4. See Whitman's December 24, 1890, letter to Bucke, where the poet responds to Bucke's relief about "the catheter &c." [back]

5. See Bucke's letter of December 7, 1890[back]

6. 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]


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