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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 24 November 1888


Cold the last two days & this morning a continued snow storm, quite brisk—well I laid in a cord of oak wood yesterday & am keeping up a good fire—had my breakfast at 9½—three or four oysters, some Graham bread, a cup of coffee & a bit of stew'd blackberries—(the b[read] bro't up yesterday by Mrs. Stafford,2 sent by her daughter Debby3)—I am ab't the same—rather leaning to the easier condition of the last ten days, (with spells of down)—tho' this is the news of this mornings paper4

—Walt Whitman is gradually growing feebler, and has been confined to his room for the last few days by a heavy cold. He has done little work since completing his last book "November Boughs."

As I write Ed W5 is making up the bed—he is a good nurse to me & does well—I believe the big book6 is ab't done, & soon the binders will go at it—All I have meant in it is (as I have before told you) to make the completed, authenticated (& personal) edition of my utterances—a system of which L of G is the centre & source—Shall of course send you one of the earliest copies—tho' you may be here personally & receive one—wh' will be better still—

Have spent a couple of hours with Addington Symonds's7 "Greek Poets"8 and the Bible—full of meat to me, both of them—Have read Boswell's Johnson9—also a long collation & brief Biog: of Kant in Prof: Hedge's "Prose Writers of Germany" (a big valuable book)10

1.40 P M—Yours of 22d11 just come—Sorry, sadly sorry, ab't Pardee12—the direction is Hamlin Garland,13 Jamaica Plain, Mass:—I have not heard lately from O'C[onnor]14—Have had a currying & bath—the sun came out an hour ago, but has gone under & every thing looks glum & cloudy—good blazing sputtering oak fire—

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 24 | 8 PM | 88. [back]
  • 2. Susan M. Lamb Stafford (1833–1910) was the mother of Harry Stafford (1858–1918), who, in 1876, became a close friend of Whitman while working at the printing office of the Camden New Republic. Whitman regularly visited the Staffords at their family farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey. Whitman enjoyed the atmosphere and tranquility that the farm provided and would often stay for weeks at a time (see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 685). [back]
  • 3. Deborah Stafford (1860–1945) was the sister of Harry Stafford. She married Joseph Browning. See Daybooks and Notebooks, ed. William White (New York: New York University Press, 1978), 1:35. [back]
  • 4. The clipping was mounted in the letter to the right and just above these words. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. Whitman refers here to John Addington Symonds' Studies of the Greek Poets (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1873–1876), in which Whitman was lauded as "more thoroughly Greek than any man of modern times." [back]
  • 9. Whitman is referring to James Boswell's (1740–1795) biography of his friend, the English writer Samuel Johnson. [back]
  • 10. Whitman is referring to Frederic Henry Hedge's Prose Writers of Germany (1856). [back]
  • 11. See Bucke's letter to Whitman of November 22, 1888. [back]
  • 12. Timothy Blair Pardee (1830–1889) was a Canadian lawyer and politician, member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontaria, Canada, and Minister of the Crown. Pardee appointed Richard Maurice Bucke, with whom he was a close friend, as the Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in Hamilton at its founding in 1876, and then the next year as Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in London. For more on Pardee, see H. V. Nelles, "Pardee, Timothy Blair," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. 11 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982). [back]
  • 13. Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) was an American novelist and autobiographer, known especially for his works about the hardships of farm life in the American Midwest. For his relationship to Whitman, see Thomas K. Dean, "Garland, Hamlin," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 14. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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