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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 11–13 January 1889

Nothing special to-day—weather fine, sunny—no doctor visiting—note f'm Century (Gilder)2 accepting my little poemet & paying3—Yes I shall send it you when out—y'rs of 9th4 welcom'd—I show'd it to Ed5—he is down splitting wood in his shirt sleeves.

Evening—I have pick'd up & been reading again Addington Symonds's6 "Greek Poets"7—always fertile & interesting to me—The Boston Herald Jan: 3 has come, & I send it to you—Horace8 has been here—the three met at the binder's, & I am to have as designed by them a specimen of the good cover,9 &c. ready for my judgment this ensuing week—we will see—

Jan: 12—noon

Fine sunny day—Dr McAlister10 here (Walsh11 unwell)—good pleasant—young—Am sitting here in this monotonous same way by the fire, in the big chair—yours of 10th comes in the midday mail—a letter also from Hamlin Garland,12 Mass—I still read the "Greek Poets"—S's attempt to explicate the "Prometheus" play puzzle (essentially insoluble, as probably all first class puzzles are) is one of the finest bits of writing & argument I know—(I take a whack at it several times)—

Sunday Jan: 13

Another fine sunny day—just right—Continue well considering—my breakfast mutton-broth & toast—now sitting in the big chair with wolf skin spread on the back of it & the woolen foot-cloth in front on the floor, with a lap-spread on my knees—reading the Sunday papers, &c—seems to me the sun & day never poured down so copiously & brightly—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, N.J. | Jan 13 | 3 PM | 89. [back]
  • 2. Joseph Benson Gilder (1858–1936) was, with his sister Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916), co-editor of The Critic, a literary magazine. [back]
  • 3. Whitman's poem "My 71st Year" was published in Century Illustrated Magazine in November 1889. [back]
  • 4. See Bucke's letter to Whitman of January 9, 1889. [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. 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]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. Whitman was still deciding on a "better binding of the big book," his Complete Poems and Prose, some copies of which had already been bound in cheaper bindings. See Whitman's letter to Bucke of January 8–9, 1889. [back]
  • 10. Dr. Alexander McAlister (1864–?) of Camden, along with the Philadelphia physician Daniel Longaker (1858–1949), attended and treated Whitman during his final illness. Later, after the city of Camden purchased Whitman's Mickle Street house, Dr. McAlister served as the chairman of the Walt Whitman Foundation, which was dedicated to administering and preserving the poet's final home. [back]
  • 11. 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]
  • 12. 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]
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