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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 17 July 1888

Pleasant weather warmish but not hot—my body strength & head grip low ebb still—not much different—no going ahead & no serious ebb—a bad day yesterday, brain thick & body sluggish—but to-day quite a movement bowel quite decided—used (instigated) (by a little syringe a little longer than your small finger) a small injection of glycerine—young Dr. Mitchell2 suggested it yesterday afternoon—I feel better I suppose as I sit here, but my head is thick yet— A good letter from John Burroughs3 this morning—all as usual with him—(a dear friend personal & literary)4

2 o'clock P M—a good letter from you wh' I will read a second time—I turn around & eat a couple of nice California pears. I send you pp 82 to 92 inclusive proof sheets,5 those are all the printers given me to date—I am still sitting up—have my dinner ab't 5—(now after 3 & I got up ab't 10½)—am middling comfortable—quiet afternoon—Shall lie down on the bed—generally fair spirits—

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 to: Dr R M Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden (?) | Jul (?) | 6 PM | 88. [back]
  • 2. During Dr. William Osler's absence, beginning on July 8, Whitman was attended by Dr. J. K. Mitchell, son of S. Weir Mitchell (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, July 8, 1888). For Whitman's opinion of the young man, see Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, July 12, 1888. [back]
  • 3. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. On July 16, 1888, Burroughs recommended "raw clams" which "are very strengthening" and hoped that Walt Whitman would be strong enough in the fall to go to the seashore with him. Burroughs was still depressed: "I try to keep absorbed in my farm operations. It is much better for me than to mope about, nibbling at literature. . . . I do no writing at all." [back]
  • 5. Whitman was at this time reading proofs for November Boughs and asking friends to read them as well. [back]
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