Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 31 December 1888

Our fine weather—upon the whole the finest December we ever had here—has changed, & to-day is dark & sulky & dripping—My fair feelings continue—the bowel action reasonable—&c. &c.—I enclose a sort of dedication for one of the Vol's. for you to keep for yourself—It ought to be inserted, cut & fitted properly by an expert—a book binder if you can have the deftness of such an one—When the books went I was unable to get up out of bed, & was in a horrible plight, with only the wish to get the Vols. sent to you while I c'd direct it—or I sh'd have written in then—I sent round to the printer's to get the corrections made—some more impressions struck off—but will do so if you have the least wish—I will soon send you a few copies as they are, with the accented e in Goethe scratch'd out, (wh' is very easily done.)1

Y'r two letters came this morning—I am sitting here in the big chair—have eaten some ice cream — drank a cup of milk for my 2 o'c luncheon— Ed Wilkins2 is snoozing on the couch near—& so to-morrow begins with 1889 with us all—3

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. Whitman was referring to "An impromptu criticism." Bucke had written to Whitman on December 20, 1888, registering at length his enthusiasm for Whitman's just-published Complete Poems and Prose. Whitman decided to have Bucke's letter printed for distribution among his friends and disciples, and he titled it "An impromptu criticism on the 900 page Volume, 'The Complete Poems and Prose of Walt Whitman,' first issued December, 1888." The first printing had several typos, including the addition of an acute accent over the first "e" of "Goethe," so Whitman had the errors corrected in a second printing that was completed by January 2, 1889. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, December 27, 1888. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. According to Miller's tabulation, based upon his letters and his entries in the Commonplace Book, Whitman's income in 1888 amounted to at least $925.04: royalties, $177.01; sales of books, $107.66; payments for articles and poems, $277.00; gifts, $224.37; and miscellaneous, $139.00. (The figures on book sales are to some extent conjectural, since Miller had to assume Whitman charged uniform prices for his various books.) It is probably of relevance to note that, beginning in 1888, Whitman's friends contributed regularly to a nursing fund; hence he did not receive quite so many gifts as in previous years. It is also of significance that as his health deteriorated, recordings in Commonplace Book were less complete than hitherto. Thus there are very real discrepancies between amounts he deposited periodically in the bank and receipts of money from various sources. [back]
Back to top