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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 5–6 January 1889

Fair yesterday—a little dull & tedious cribb'd up here so long, but got along—quite decided bowel action in the forenoon, & a good thorough hot-water bath (tub) in the afternoon—my diet continues the same, mutton broth (plenty of rice in it,) dry toast, and a cup of milk (or two, during the day) with some ice cream (wh' tastes good & welcome) ab't 1½ p m—I fancy I am growing very, very slowly to have more strength—but sit here pretty much the same—(I thoroughly believe in your diagnosis in letter of 24th)2

This morning comes the Boston Herald of Jan: 3d with a splendid, nearly two-column criticism & setting forth of the big book,3 from Sylvester Baxter4—wh' I think even you will applaud & be satisfied with—I will send the paper,5 but first wish to know if you have rec'd one from S B himself—(as I find I send sometimes what you have before)—

To-day opens dark & wet & lowering enough—no severe cold yet—I still have signs of my "cold in the head" (not violent) yet—a letter from Kennedy6—affectionate & devoted—sit here in the big chair three quarters idling—no emphasized physical uncomfortableness—

Sunday Jan 6

Lowering weather continued. A nice 20 minutes' call from Johnston7 & Dick Hinton8—also f'm Tom Harned9—am ab't the same—comfortable enough—as I sit Ed10 is making up the bed—& I am just going out to the wash-room—got in a cord of cut oak wood yesterday (ready therefore for a cold spell)—bowel action—Horace11 has just call'd—good luck to the meter12

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. | Jan 6 | 8(?) PM | 89. [back]
  • 2. Whitman is referring to a lost letter from Bucke; see Bucke's letter of December 24, 1888, note 2. [back]
  • 3. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." The volume was published by the poet himself in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. 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]
  • 4. Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. Baxter's review of Whitman's Complete Poems and Prose was titled "Whitman's Complete Works" and was published in the Boston Herald on January 3, 1889. The review was unsigned. See also Whitman's letter to Richard Maurice Bucke of January 5–6, 1889 and Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of January 5–6, 1889. [back]
  • 6. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. John H. Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler and close friend of Whitman. Johnston was also a friend of Joaquin Miller (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, August 14, 1888). Whitman visited the Johnstons for the first time early in 1877. In 1888 he observed to Horace Traubel: "I count [Johnston] as in our inner circle, among the chosen few" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 3, 1888). See also Johnston's letter about Whitman, printed in Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1915), 149–174. For more on Johnston, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. Richard Josiah Hinton (1830–1901) was born in London and came to the U.S. in 1851. He trained as a printer, and, like the radical abolitionist writer and publisher James Redpath, went to Kansas and joined John Brown. In fact, but for an accident he would have been with Brown at Harper's Ferry. A man mistaken for Hinton was hanged. Together with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Hinton also planned the jailbreak of John Brown's accomplices Albert Hazlett and Aaron Stevens in Charlestown for the "Jayhawkers," a band of abolitionists who assisted slaves through the Underground Railroad that included Silas S. Soule. With James Redpath he was the author of Hand-book to Kansas Territory and the Rocky Mountains' Gold Region (New York: J. H. Colton, 1859). Later he wrote Rebel Invasion of Missouri and Kansas (Chicago: Church & Goodman, 1865) and John Brown and His Men (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894). Apparently Hinton had suggested that Thayer & Eldridge print Leaves of Grass (see The New Voice, 16 [4 February 1899], 2). Hinton served in the Union Army from 1861 to 1865, and saw Whitman while lying wounded in a hospital, a scene which he described in the Cincinnati Commercial on August 26, 1871. After the war Hinton wrote for many newspapers. He defended William O'Connor's The Good Gray Poet in the Milwaukee Sentinel on February 9, 1866 (2). Hinton's article in the Rochester Evening Express on March 7, 1866, "Farms and Fortunes in England and America," included a lengthy discussion of Whitman, with quotations from O'Connor and John Burroughs. Obviously pleased, Whitman sent it to friends, including William Michael Rossetti, who acknowledged it on April 12, 1868 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, August 11, 1888). See also Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, September 28, 1888; William Sloane Kennedy, The Fight of a Book for the World (West Yarmouth, Massachusetts: The Stonecroft Press, 1926), 19, 67, 110–111, 242; and the Boston Transcript, 21 December 1901. [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. 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]
  • 11. 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]
  • 12. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]
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