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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 18–[19] October 1889


Feeling middling—am scribbling a little—I believe the ensuing Century is to print my little poemet "My 71st Year"2—& I think of sending off a piece to Harper's—sent it off Friday evn'g—w'd make a page3—fine sunny weather, now the third day—A young rather green fellow, Charles Sterrit, came over here as candidate for my new nurse & helper— could not tell only from practical trial—is to come Monday—what slight impression I had was rather pleasant—we are all sorry Ed4 is going— every thing has been smooth & good without anything—no hitch or anything of the kind—bowel action this forenoon—pretty fair I guess these late & current days—am sitting here in my den, alone as usual—have rec'd the Boston "Transatlantic," it is like Harper's Weekly in form, & semi-monthly—Y'r letters come—thanks—O how beautiful it looks out—the sun shining clear—& the active people flitting to and fro—

9 P M—am sitting here alone—comfortable enough—Ed has gone over to the theatre with one of Mrs. D's5 boys6

Alys Smith7 (the dear handsome gay-hearted girl) has come back and was here this afternoon—all are stout & well & hearty over there in London—Mary8 least so, but she not ill—I guess "society" (a great humbug) is a bad strain on her, & the responsibility of household & two little children—& Mary is not a rugged girl—

Saturday, P M—ab't same—right as can be expected—have rec'd Arnold's9 printed letter in Lond. Telegraph & will send you by-and-by—A is on the Pacific en route—Horace10 comes regularly—the nurse:dislocation bothers us (but all goes into a life time)—

Love to you all— Walt Whitman  loc_as.00086_large.jpg  loc_as.00087_large.jpg

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 Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, NJ | Oct 19 | 8 PM | [illegible]; Philadelphia, PA | Oct | 19 | 9 PM | 1889 | Transit; NY | 10-20-89 | 9 AM; London | PM | OC 21 | 89 | Canada. [back]
  • 2. Whitman's poem "My 71st Year" was published in Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine in November 1889. [back]
  • 3. On October 18, 1889, Whitman sent a cluster of poems entitled "Old Age's Echoes" to Henry Mills Alden of Harper's New Monthly Magazine and asked $100 (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). On October 24, Alden rejected the work: "It is too much of an improvisation for our use. I had it set up, hoping that, seeing it in type, I might come to a more favorable impression of its form. The thought is worthy of a more careful texture in its parts & of a more shapely embodiment as a whole. I am not critisizing. Criticism has no place in the poet's world. I am writing only as a Magazine editor with reference to Magazine requirements." Alden's letter cannot be located. On November 2, 1889, Whitman sent the piece, now called "Old Age Echoes," to Nineteenth Century and asked £20; the editor, James Knowles, returned the manuscript on February 21, 1890. The "3 or 4 sonnets poemets," as the poet characterized the work in his Commonplace Book, were eventually published in the March 1891 issue of Lippincott's Magazine. Here, the poem "Old-Age Echoes" consists of the "poemets" titled "Sounds of the Winter," "The Unexpress'd," "Sail out for Good, Eidólon Yacht!" and "After the Argument." "To the Sun-Set Breeze" appeared in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in December, 1890; Whitman received $60 (Commonplace Book). [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Whitman is probably referring to either Harry (Henry) or Warren (Warry) Fritzinger. Prior to becoming Whitman's housekeeper, Mary Davis had worked for Henry Whireman Fritzinger, a former sea captain who later went blind. Following Henry, Sr.'s death in 1881, Mary served as a guardian for the Fritzinger boys. [back]
  • 7. Alyssa ("Alys") Whitall Pearsall Smith (1867–1951) was born in Philadelphia and became a Quaker relief organizer. She attended Bryn Mawr College and was a graduate of the class of 1890. She and her family lived in Britain for two years during her childhood and again beginning in 1888. She married the philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1894; the couple later separated, and they divorced in 1921. Smith also served as the chair of a society committee that set up the "Mothers and Babies Welcome" (the St Pancras School for Mothers) in London in 1907; this health center, dedicated to reducing the infant mortality rate, provided a range of medical and educational services for women. Smith was the daughter of Robert Pearsall and Hannah Whitall Smith, and she was the sister of Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945), the political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." [back]
  • 8. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 9. Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904), the British poet and journalist, had visited Whitman in Camden in September 1889 and wrote frequently about it. See for example, "Arnold and Whitman," which was published in the September 26, 1889, issue of The Daily Picayune. Whitman found the visitor interesting but too effusive: "My main objection to him, if objection at all, would be, that he is too eulogistic—too flattering" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, September 13, 1889). [back]
  • 10. 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]
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