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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 22 January 1890

Sunny & cold & dry to-day—(most yet this winter)—I keep on much the same—probably slowly certainly ebbing—fairly buoyant spirits—rare egg & tea & bread for breakfast—good bowel action—Shall probably have a poemet (8 or 9 lines) in Feb. Century2—Shall send it you in slip, soon as out—Stead3 has sent me his "Review of Reviews" f'm London4—shall I send it to you? Horace5 has it now—

I have written to Mrs. Costelloe6—Alys7 comes quite regularly—R[obert] P[earsall] S[mith]8 is well—Logan9 writes—am sitting here dully enough—stupid—no exhilaration—no massage or wheel-chair10 to day—my nurse11 has disappear'd for the day—now 3½ oclock—If I had a good hospital, well conducted—some good nurse—to retreat to for good I sometimes think it w'd be best for me—I shall probably get worse, & may linger along yet some time—of course I know that death has struck me & it is only a matter of time, but may be quite a time yet—But I must get off this line—don't know why I got on it—but having written I will let it remain12—enclosed (I have just come across it & I tho't I w'd send it to you) is Sylvanus Baxter's Pension Proposition two years ago—Peremptorily declined by me—but for all that & against my own decision put before the U S H[ouse of] R[epresentatives] pension committee at Washington & passed, (did I send you the U S H R Committee report?)13—but not definitively pass'd by Congress—Perhaps I had better tell you, dear Maurice, that the money or income question is the one that least bothers me—I have enough to last. This is a sort of crazy letter but I will let it go14

Walt Whitman

finish'd toward 4 P M—all right—

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 (?) | Jan 23 | 6 AM | 90; London | AM Ja 24 | O | Canada. [back]
  • 2. "Old Age's Ship & Crafty Death's" appeared in the February 1890 issue. See Whitman's January 2, 1889, letter to Bucke. [back]
  • 3. William Thomas Stead (1849–1912) was a well-known English journalist and editor of The Pall Mall Gazette in the 1880s. He was a proponent of what he called "government by journalism" and advocated for a strong press that would influence public opinion and affect government decision-making. His investigative reports were much discussed and often had significant social impact. He has sometimes been credited with inventing what came to be called "tabloid journalism," since he worked to make newspapers more attractive to readers, incorporating maps, illustrations, interviews, and eye-catching headlines. He died on the Titanic when it sank in 1912. [back]
  • 4. William T. Stead wrote to Whitman on January 7, 1890 about his new journal. See Whitman's letter of January 3, 1887 to Henry Norman; see also the poet's letter of August 17, 1887 to William T. Stead. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. Alys Smith (1867–1951) was Mary Costelloe's sister. She would eventually marry the philosopher Bertrand Russell. [back]
  • 8. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 9. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was an essayist and literary critic. He was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith, a minister and writer who befriended Whitman, and he was the brother of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, one of Whitman's most avid followers. For more information on Logan, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. 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]
  • 11. 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]
  • 12. In 1889 Bucke had suggested that Walt Whitman consider going to the Johns Hopkins Hospital. See Whitman's April 27–28, 1889 and May 6, 1889, letters to Bucke. Alys Smith visited the hospital before she wrote on January 4, 1890. On January 25 Bucke praised it "as a palace of medical skill and physical comfort for the sick and helpless," and on January 29 he sent Whitman a note from Dr. William Osler, to whom he had written about hospital accommodations. [back]
  • 13. See Whitman's December 8, 1886 letter to Sylvester Baxter. [back]
  • 14. Mounted in the lower right-hand corner of this letter is a clipping from the Boston Evening Transcript of January 18 describing a series of lectures on American art and literature to be given by Hamlin Garland at the Boston School of Oratory: "The genre and landscape poetry of Whitman." [back]
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