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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 13 February 1889


I send Mrs: O'C[onnor]'s2 letter rec'd this morn'g—welcomed tho' it has not (only indirectly) what I mostly wanted, all ab't, mainly & detailedly O'C's3 condition & every thing relating to him—(a good strong man nurse he evidently needs at once—my poor lamented friend—it is hard, hard)—

I send Rolleston's4 short note—What I am specially tickled ab't is that a big five pound book5 (40 cents postage) goes safe & sure to Co[unty] Wicklow Ireland f'm Jersey here. I also enc: Jo: Gilder's6 invitation letter, just rec'd. Of course I make no response—

Things nearly the same—not one even of my tolerable days—my head is uncomfortable, half aching & half-deaf—sunny & cold weather—yes, I will send "Magazine of Poetry" back—Horace7 ask'd last evn'g of y'r definitive date of coming, with reference to fixing for y'r lecture—I am sitting here stupidly all day by the stove

Walt Whitman
 loc.02969.001.jpg Dear Walt,

If things go on as they have for the past week, you will have to think yourself lucky if you get even a postal in ten days. You must remember that I am housekeeper, nurse, marketer, & have to see that the house is decent, if  loc.02969.002.jpg possible, besides being interrupted at every ten minutes to answer some one who calls from a good motive to ask how Wm. is, but would do better not to come often.

So far I am the only nurse, & if you have been as badly  loc.02969.003.jpg off as he is, you may have some idea of what it means, in this case it means that I wash & dress him so far as he can be dressed,—wash his urinals, for he has to be protected night & day, from the constant dripping,—& to keep  loc.02969.004.jpg him at all clean is nearly impossible. Some nights I get not more than four hours sleep & that very broken, & some days not one moment to rest at all. To-day I am nearly blind from loss of sleep. We have some very bad nights since the  loc_as.00155_large.jpg attack four weeks ago, & one of the very bad and troublesome developments is the nausea and throwing up, so you see that I am not very idle, & I some days could not write a postal card to save you. You will ask why we don't have a nurse & the  loc_as.00156_large.jpg answer is William does not want one, & is not ready yet, [illegible] sends love to you & says tell you he would write if he could.

Good by. As ever — Nelly O'Connor.

I have had to leave this letter six times to do some thing else.


The big book8 with its kind inscription arrived today—I like much the 1 volume plan.9 Its a book one can walk about in, as in a great land, & see things of inexhaustible meaning and promise—And time for this line now, to acknowledge—

Ever yrs T. W. Rolleston  loc.03566.002.jpg
 loc.02215.001.jpg Dear W. Whitman:

The 22d of February (Washington's Birthday) being the seventieth anniversary of the birth of Mr. James Russell Lowell,10 it is our intention to publish on that date a number of The Critic consisting mainly of personal estimates of, and greetings to, the distinguished poet, satirist and statesman.

Should you care to make the tribute a more memorable one by adding your congratulations to those of the other distinguished men and women whose names will appear in this special number, we should esteem it a privilege & make room  loc.02215.002.jpgfor as many words—or as few—as you may care to write.

We need hardly add that Mr. Lowell knows nothing of the intended compliment, which we trust will surprise as much as it must please him.

Whatever you may send should reach us by Feb. 19.

Very sincerely yours, Joseph B. Gilder

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. | Feb 13 | 8 PM | 89. [back]
  • 2. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Thomas William Hazen Rolleston (1857–1920) was an Irish poet and journalist. After attending college in Dublin, he moved to Germany for a period of time. He wrote to Whitman frequently, beginning in 1880, and later produced with Karl Knortz the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry into German. In 1889, the collection Grashalme: Gedichte [Leaves of Grass: Poems] was published by Verlags-Magazin in Zurich, Switzerland. See Walter Grünzweig, Constructing the German Walt Whitman (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995). For more information on Rolleston, see Walter Grünzweig, "Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (1857–1920)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," 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 for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, 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]
  • 6. Joseph Benson Gilder (1858–1936) was, with his sister Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916), co-editor of The Critic, a literary magazine. [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. Whitman's "big book" is a reference to his Complete Poems and Prose of Walt Whitman (1888). Whitman published the book himself—in an arrangement with the Philadephia publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. [back]
  • 9. Horace Traubel records Whitman's first reactions to the new book in Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, January 23, 1889. Also, on January 23, 1889, Whitman wrote to Bucke: "a handsome substantial volume—not that I am overwhelmed or even entirely satisfied by it, but as I had not put my calculations high & was even expecting to be disappointed, I shall accept it." [back]
  • 10. James Russell Lowell (1819–1891) was an American critic, poet and editor of The Atlantic. One of Whitman's famous poetic contemporaries, Lowell was committed to conventional poetic form, which was clearly at odds with Whitman's more experimental form. Still, as editor of the Atlantic Monthly, he published Whitman's "Bardic Symbols," probably at Ralph Waldo Emerson's suggestion. Lowell later wrote a tribute to Abraham Lincoln titled "Commemoration Ode," which has often, since its publication, been contrasted with Whitman's own tribute, "O Captain! My Captain!" For further information on Whitman's views of Lowell, see William A. Pannapacker, "Lowell, James Russell (1819–1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998) [back]
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