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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 4–[5] January 1890

Am sitting here toward 8—nothing very new—Am so-so, heavy-headed feeling & the same old insuperable inertia—was out this afternoon in the wheel chair,2 the sun half-out in starts & rather cool—Supper of rice & mutton stew—I continue my non-mid-day meal or dinner—appetite fair—as I sit here my nurse Warren3 is down stairs practising on his fiddle—

Sunday 3 p m—Nothing amiss today—but dull dark rainy weather—am pottering over an article prose essay "Old Poets—and other Things," probably to be offer'd to N[orth] A[merican] Review4—as they have ask'd me to write something for them—bowel action—had a good currying two hours ago—breakfast oysters, toast & tea—y'r letters rec'd5—am floating along carried idly, by the momentum of things I suppose—stupidity may be a strong word but it suggests if not describes my cond'n these times—

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 Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Cam(?) N.J. | Jan 5 | 5 PM | 90. [back]
  • 2. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889. [back]
  • 3. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]
  • 4. "Old Poets" appeared in the North American Review in November. See Whitman's October 10, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]
  • 5. Bucke had written to Whitman on December 22, 1889 and December 24, 1889. [back]
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