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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 5–6 July 1888

Have had a pretty bad day—ab't one of the real bad spells (except no really definite spell such as that special Monday)—but giving out the last 6 or 8 hours most physical & moral energy—no action at all of bowels or water works—no eating—have just risen and eaten three or four mouthfuls—(Baker's2 strong advise)—am now sitting here in the chair (3.40 P M)—At this moment indicates rain shower—Y'r letter rec'd—I hope Eng. ed'n "Dem Vistas3 &c" will come yet safely—it is the best specimen of typographic make & binding (for modest expense) yet turned out there—Suppose you've got the further proofs to page 704—mail'd them yesterday—Shall have some little mendings, changings &c. to plates.

Later Thursday—9½ p m—I am less uncomfortable—Horace Traubel5 has been in for a short visit, & to bring the latest print proofs &c:—All things go on & I am satisfied so far (I have just paid him, Ferguson, $50)6—have just swallowed a calomel powder preparatory to go to bed—we have had a slight rain—the quiet in comparison of the last three days & nights is very helpful to me—

Noon, Friday, July 6—No particular change in the situation—I am appreciably better—bowels voided—temperature &c. very fine—am sitting up quietly this moment—heavy rather dulness​ & pain head—suppose you are up to your neck with work & responsibility—well I rather envy it all, supposing & the feeling & ability & physical plus

Love to you all— 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 (?) | Jul 6 (?) | 8 PM | 88. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. The English edition of Whitman's Democratic Vistas, and Other Papers was published by the London firm of Walter Scott publisher in 1888. [back]
  • 4. Whitman was at this time reading proofs for November Boughs and asking friends to read them as well. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. Walt Whitman began negotiations on May 25 with George Ferguson to set the type for November Boughs (1888). Ferguson agreed to charge $1.30 for each page in long primer (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, May 25, 1888). The first payment of $50 was made on July 3 (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, July 3,1888). [back]
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