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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 18–[19] January 1890


Been out a little in the wheelchair1 this afternoon—yesterday also—Horace2 here every evening—I write a little3—¾s people here & hereabouts have the grip—I am free so far (Perhaps Beelzebub himself having possession keeps out the smaller devils)—weather variable beyond example—pleasant enough now—sunny to-day—very cold yesterday—this "cold in the head" (or gathering) continues thro' all—bladder business troublesome at night—am sitting here in my den alone as usual by the stove—my nurse4 gone to the p o—y'rs of 17th5 came to night, welcome—corn beef (good) & good roast potato for my supper—appetite sharp enough

Sunday a m

Fine bright day—shall probably get out soon after noon—some stew'd chicken for breakfast— —no doctors & no medicine-taking for many months— —have been formally invited to the Browning6 memorial testimonial Boston but of course cannot go & do not feel the Spirit move me to write them any thing7—few letters &c. lately—a good sprinkle of visitors—Good luck to you & all—

Walt Whitman  loc_no.00119.jpg

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. 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]
  • 2. 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 late 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]
  • 3. On January 8, 1890, Whitman sent "A Death-Bouquet" to Franklin File of the New York Sun for which he received $10 (The Commonplace-Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). See Prose Works 1892, ed. Floyd Stovall, 2 vols. (1963–1964), in Collected Writings, 671n. It appeared in the Philadelphia Press on February 2, 1890. See Whitman's February 2–3, letter to Bucke. [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. See Bucke's January 17, 1890, letter to Whitman. [back]
  • 6. The English poet Robert Browning (1812–1889), known for his dramatic monologues, including "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess," was also the husband of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861). [back]
  • 7. Dana Estes of Boston invited him on January 14, 1890, to attend a meeting of the Browning Society. [back]
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