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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 31 October 1889


"The same subject continued"—good bowel passage last evn'g— my sailor boy nurse (Warren Fritzinger,2 he is just making up the bed) had a letter from Ed3 this morning—so he got there all right any how—buckwheat cakes & honey for my breakfast—Did you not see (he got £250 for it) Tennyson's4 "Throstle"5 & a burlesque of it in one of the papers I sent you? Gosse6 I sh'd call one of the amiable conventional wall-flowers of literature (see Thackeray—"Yellowplush" I think)7—we too have numbers of good harmless well-fed sleek well-tamed fellows, like well-order'd parlors, crowded all over with wealth of books (generally gilt & Morocco) & statuary & pictures & bric-a-brac—lots of 'em & showing first-rate—but no more real pulse and appreciation than the wood floors or lime & sand walls—(one almost wonders whether literary even Emersonian culture dont lead to all that)—

—Toward noon weather here turns to rain—bet'n 12 and 1 I had a good massage, pummeling, &c. bath also & have had a visit f'm some of the Unitarian conference—y'rs of 29th rec'd8—my head, hearing, eyes, bad to-day, yet I am feeling pretty fairly—a present f'm R P Smith9 of a cheque for $25 to-day—sent him the pk't-b'k Morocco ed'n L of G10—Mrs: Davis11 off to-day to Doylestown, Penn: (20 miles f'm here) to visit & comfort a very old couple—returns to-night—my sailor boy has just written to Ed & has gone to the P O to take it—it is towards 3 P M & dark & glum out & I am alone—have a good oak fire—am sitting here vacant enough, as you may fancy (but it might be worse)—have myself for company, such as it is, any how—God bless you all—

Walt Whitman  loc_as.00105_large.jpg  loc_as.00106_large.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. This letter is addressed: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Oct 31 | 8 PM | 89; Philadel[cut away] | Oct 31 | 9PM | 1889 | Transit; London | PM | NO 2 | 89 | Canada. [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. 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]
  • 4. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Whitman wrote to Tennyson in 1871 or late 1870, probably shortly after the visit of Cyril Flower in December, 1870, but the letter is not extant (see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 223). Tennyson's first letter to Whitman is dated July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]
  • 5. "Throstle" was a parody of Tennyson by the English poet and author Edmund Gosse (1849–1928). Whitman mentions "Throstle" in his letters to Bucke of October 23, 1889, October 27–28, 1889, and October 31, 1889. [back]
  • 6. Sir Edmund William Gosse (1849–1928), English poet and author of Father and Son (a memoir published in 1907), had written to Whitman on December 12, 1873: "I can but thank you for all that I have learned from you, all the beauty you have taught me to see in the common life of healthy men and women, and all the pleasure there is in the mere humanity of other people" (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, June 1, 1888). Gosse reviewed Two Rivulets in "Walt Whitman's New Book," The Academy, 9 (24 June 1876), 602–603, and visited Whitman in 1885 (see Whitman's letter inviting Gosse to visit on December 31, 1884, Gosse's December 29, 1884 letter to Whitman, and The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977], 3:384 n80). In a letter to Richard Maurice Bucke on October 31, 1889, Whitman characterized Gosse as "one of the amiable conventional wall-flowers of literature." For more about Gosse, see Jerry F. King, "Gosse, Sir Edmund (1849–1928)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. Whitman was equally caustic in remarks to Horace Traubel: "Gosse is a type of the modern man of letters—much-knowing, sharp witted, critical, cold,—bitten with the notion that to be smart is to be deep" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, September 9, 1889); and "He is the cheapest of the present essay writers over there in England" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, September 11, 1889). [back]
  • 8. See Bucke's letter to Whitman of October 29, 1889. [back]
  • 9. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. Whitman had a limited pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass printed in honor of his 70th birthday, on May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. 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]
  • 11. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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