Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 24 December 1890

Date: December 24, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07861

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.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Zainab Saleh, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden1
Dec: 24 '90

Y'rs rec'd: ab't the catheter &c:2—thanks—Am feeling tolerably easy—bowel voidance—clear sunny weather here—

Horace3 is sending his piece to N E Magazine4—I send MS "Some Personal Memoranda" & a poemet to Lippincott's intended for March5—I have also sent (did I tell you?) some poetic stuff to Scribner's6—McKay7 has paid me for the 100 big book sets sheets went to England—Enclose Dr J's8 letter came last evn'g9—(good friends good set there in Bolton)—letter10 this mn'g f'm Ed Wilkins,11 welcomed—

Christmas at hand—(a sort of general prosperity & "intestinal agitation")—Looks fine out & I sh'l likely get in wheel chair12

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: Philadelph(?) | Dec 24 | 1 PM | 90, London | PM | DE 25 | 90 | Canada. [back]

2. On December 22 Bucke wrote: "The best letter I have had for a long time was one this moment received written by Dr Mitchell jr. to Horace and forwarded me by the latter. This letter gives an acct. of the analysis of your water and according to it your kidneys are absolutely normal. There is nothing at all wrong with your water works except the enlarged prostate and the irritation consequent upon it. Your main difficulty is that on account of the enlargement of the prostate the bladder is not entirely emptied at any time—the urine retained undergoes decomposition and causes irritation—Now what is wanted is that a catheter should be passed morning and evening and all the water drawn off (in this way) twice a day." [back]

3. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Horace Traubel's article, "Walt Whitman at Date," was published in the May 1891 edition of the New England Magazine 4.3 (May 1891), 275–292. [back]

5. See Whitman's November 20 letter to Joseph M. Stoddart and his December 30 letter to Bucke. [back]

6. On December 17, Whitman sent four poems: "Old Chants," "Grand is the Seen," "Death dogs my steps," and "two lines." He requested $100, but the poems were rejected on January 23, 1891 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

7. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–2. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the publisher Whitman had originally contracted with for publication of the volume, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, and Complete Prose Works. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Dr. John Johnston (d. 1918) was a physician from Bolton, England, who, with James W. Wallace, founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Johnston, see Larry D. Griffin, "Johnston, Dr. John (d.1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. See Dr. Johnston's letter of December 13, 1890. [back]

10. This letter may not be extant. [back]

11. 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. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

12. 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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