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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 1 January 1889

Superb sunny day again & I am feeling all as right as could be expected—Still on mutton broth with toast & plenty of rice & a few mouthfuls of the stew'd mutton. As I told you, bowel action fair—A little of what I call cold in the head, but slight so far—Dr Walsh2 here last evn'g—he himself quite unwell—no Osler3 now for a fortnight—I enclose Mrs: O'C[onnor]'s4 card rec'd this mn'g—Ed: Stafford5 has been here—they are all well as usual & every thing goes on the same as of old—

So we have commenced on another year—& where it will take us, & how, are indeed mercifully hidden—for the pique of weaving & watching (with a gambler's uncertainty) makes the background & basis of the whole business—I have been reading "Goethe's & Carlyle's correspondence"6 wh' I find interesting—presents C in a different light from any other—

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 (?) | Jan 2 | 6 AM | 89. [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. Sir William Osler (1849–1919) was a Canadian physician and one of the four founding staff members of Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he served as the first Chief of Medicine. Richard Maurice Bucke introduced Osler to Whitman in 1885 in order to care for the aging poet. Osler wrote a manuscript about his personal and professional relationship with Whitman in 1919; see Philip W. Leon, Walt Whitman and Sir William Osler: A Poet and His Physician [Toronto: ECW Press, 1995]). For more on Osler, see Philip W. Leon, "Osler, Dr. William (1849–1919)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on the relationship of Osler and Whitman, see Michael Bliss, William Osler: A Life in Medicine (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999). [back]
  • 4. Jean (1858–1883) was the daughter of William D. and Ellen O'Connor. William speaks often in his letters of Jean, calling her by her nicknames of "Jenny" or "Jeannie." [back]
  • 5. Edwin Stafford (1856–1906) was the brother of Harry Stafford, a close acquaintance of Whitman. [back]
  • 6. It is likely that Whitman is referring to the volume entitled Correspondence between Goethe and Carlyle, edited by Charles Eliot Norton and published in 1887 by Macmillan and Co. [back]
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