Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 3–4 November 1888

Good breakfast at 9½ of chocolate, toasted Graham bread & broil'd chicken — enjoy'd all. Have rec'd a nice letter this mn'g f'm Mary Costelloe,2 return'd to London city—all well—Pearsall S[mith]3 well as formerly, (one eye sight however quite quench'd)—Rec'd also an acc't (in Pall Mall Gaz: Oct: 28) of a visit to me f'm the good fellow, Mr Summers, M P,4 I believe mention'd to you in letter months ago5—I will send the acc't to you—the two paper notices Boston Transcript & in the Phil: Bulletin, (of N B,)6 must have now reach'd you—they were sent.

Am pretty well, considering, but laggard & a dull headache most of the time—partial bowel action this forenoon—I don't get out of my room at all—the 6th month now—Mr Musgrove7 is kind active & considerate all through—dull, darkish, damp here to day—I sit here the same, the sash a little open'd—very moderate—

Sunday noon Nov: 4—Bright, sunny, quiet day—am feeling ab't my easiest—fair bowel movement—the big book8 gets on—title page has been made of a big medallion profile of me, (lettering on it)—suits me—am thinking (composing it now) of a short concluding note at end—will see how I can get it in shape—

Tom Harned9 & his brother Frank & young Mr. Corning10 have just call'd & spent a short half hour (I don't know but I find myself talking more than I used to—talking perhaps more than ever)—I enclose you several letters (I send them as a foil, your duties & works there must be dry)—if you don't feel to read them, put it off for a better season, or put it aside altogether—I suppose Edward Wilkins11 will be here to-morrow—Mr M,12 my present nurse, is sort o' vexed ab't it all—he is a good fellow too, & I am almost glum ab't his going—I liked him well—Horace13 did not, & has not—H remains & is perfectly faithful & I depend on him more than words could describe—y'r letter came last evn'g.

Best love to you & yours— 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 R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Nov 4 | 5 PM | 88. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was Mary Costelloe's brother. For more information on Smith, see Christina Davey "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. The Irishman William Summers (1853–1893) was a member of the British Parliament, junior whip of the Liberal Party, and strong proponent of Irish home rule. He visited Whitman on September 26, 1888. His account of the visit was published in The Pall Mall Gazette on October 18, 1888. Whitman said of the visit that "Summers hit me hard. He made a grand show-up—had fine ways—was young, strong, optimistic" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, September 26, 1888). [back]
  • 5. See Whitman's September 25-26, 1888, letter to Bucke. [back]
  • 6. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. Nathan M. Baker was one of Whitman's caregivers. He would leave on July 15, 1888, to resume his medical training. Baker was replaced by W.A. Musgrove. For Whitman's comments on the transition, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, July 16, 1888. [back]
  • 8. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 9. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel, 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). [back]
  • 10. As yet we have no information about this person. [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. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]
  • 12. W. A. Musgrove replaced Dr. Nathan M. Baker as Whitman's caregiver on July 15, 1888. Musgrove was far less satisfactory than Baker. Traubel noted that "Musgrove is a cloudy man. I asked how M. got on. W. evaded the question by some general remark. . . . He [Musgrove] is only a nurse—not a doctor" (Horace Traubel, ed., With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, July 16, 1888). Yet, Whitman later described Musgrove as "kind active & considerate all through" (See the letter from Whitman to Bucke of November 3–4, 1888). [back]
  • 13. 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]
Back to top