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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 13 December 1888


Well, dear friend, I have had another bad spell—perhaps the worst of all—a violent whack at what nervous power I had—but I am now up for a few moments & I write you to show you I can write—

I cannot medically describe the situation of the last four days but will ask definitely from Dr Walsh2 here who comes every day—& I like every thing except he gives me too much medicine—Ed3 is very faithful & watches me day & night—Not a word to me ab't O'C4 rec'd5—I suppose Horace Traubel6 sent to you four copies of the big book7 in common binding by Canadian Express to-day—unpaid this end—write me what the freight & tariff—You ought to get them by Saturday 15th—I shall look till I get word of their reception—

Of course I have a good deal to say but must defer it & get back to bed where I have laid since Sunday last—extreme debility one thing—many points even too disagreeable ab't—But I think I am beginning to approximate myself—

Walt Whitman  loc_as.00148_large.jpg

I rec'd this8 f'm Kennedy9 —the "Solitude" MS is of course a fraud entire & have so written to K.10—(I never had any relations with Lowell11)

 loc_as.00147_large.jpg Dear Walt: W.

Did you ever write a production called "Solitude"? It is credited to you by a pencil-script line in the Harvard College Library. I don't believe it is yrs, but that it is an imitation. It is unbound, about 2/3 the size of this sheet, contains 16 pp. & has written on it in pencil "Presented [illegible] Library by Prof. Jas. Russell Lowell, 1860. Sept 26." It is divided into two sections, with running titles "Chamber," & "Street," & begins "O! this everlasting contact with men; This agony of a continual presence."

I shd like to get yr written word on it.

W. S. K.

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: C(?) | Dec 13(?) | 8 PM | 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. 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]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Apparently Whitman had forgotten the postcard O'Connor wrote on December 9th in which he said: "I have been very sick and feeble for a month past, but am a little better. My eye got open at last, but is still bleary and bad" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, December 12, 1888). [back]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." The volume 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, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, 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]
  • 8. Whitman wrote this postscript on the back of the December 13, 1888, letter from Kennedy that Whitman included as an enclosure with this letter. [back]
  • 9. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. See the letter from Whitman to Kennedy on December 18, 1888. [back]
  • 11. James Russell Lowell (1819–1891) was a poet, literary and social critic, abolitionist, editor, Harvard professor, and diplomat (Brendan A. Rapple, "James Russell Lowell", American Travel Writers, 1850–1915 [Detroit: Gale, 1998], 247–254). [back]
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