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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 16–17 December 1888

Am sitting here a while to contrast the fearful tedium of lying in bed so long—eking a half hour more, to sit up here—though slowly & moderately, seems to me I am decidedly better, wh' sums all at present—seem to fall from one pit to a lower pit—what is to come remains to be seen—Dr Walsh2 (who is not very definitive) says it is an extreme case (this very last) of prostration & gastric trouble from indigestion—Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday last were worst—Tuesday was deathly—yesterday & to-day I begin at milk & broth & sit up more—feel pretty fair as I sit here this moment—have drink'd some sherry mix'd with milk—(wine, whey)—Hope you have rec'd the copies of the big book3, sent by Canadian Express (sent last Thursday)—Hope you are not disappointed (or vex'd) at its looks—as it is, for all nine-tenths of L of G. are from normal al fresco genesis (beef, meat, wine, sunny, lusty) and three fourths of the rest of the trilogy ditto—it is fished out of one of Dante's hells, considering my physical condition the last three months—

Well, I will get to bed, with Ed's4 help—

Monday afternoon Dec. 17—Fairly passable last night & some chicken broth for breakfast—anticipated a pretty good day & a good bath in the wash room, but not accomplish'd yet—Yours of 15th5 rec'd—Am sitting up—a dismal dark sticky rainy day—Suppose the big books must be to hand now—sweat easily, the least encouragement—quite great thirst—drink milk a good deal—have just eaten some vanilla ice cream—just rec'd an Italian (Palermo) paper6—& the Paris Revue Independent for Nov: with notice of L of G,7 wh' I mail you—send me the synopsis when you have an opportunity—my head is in a sore poor condition—

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. | Dec 18 | 6 AM | 88. [back]
  • 2. Dr. Walsh was the brother of William S. Walsh (1854–1919), an American author and editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. Richard Maurice Bucke arranged to have him accompany Dr. William Osler to see Whitman, since Bucke believed it would be useful to have a younger doctor examine the poet. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, December 5, 1888. [back]
  • 3. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. 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. 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]
  • 5. See Bucke's letter to Whitman of December 15, 1888. [back]
  • 6. Perhaps a review of the translation Canti Scelti by Luigi Gamberale in 1887; see Gay Wilson Allen, Walt Whitman Abroad (1955), 187. [back]
  • 7. On December 19, 1888, Bucke noted that the article in Revue Indèpendante contained eight pages of translations by Francis Vielé-Griffin (1863 or 1864–1907) and "no comment at all": "Translation not good (translator did not fully understand the English text)" (Feinberg). See also P. M. Jones, "Whitman in France," MLR, 10 (1915), 16-17. [back]
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