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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke [and Horace Traubel], 26 October 1890


Fine sunny day—ab't right as usual—had a fair night—letter f'm Niagara came2—the oculist Dr Thomas3 came late yesterday & examined & will furnish me with suitable glasses (a satisfactory friendly visit)—I send you to-day's Press with half correct half fraudulent report of the little Lafayette talk4 (good transcript of the Murger5 poemet6)—Warry7 and Mrs: D8 are off to Phil. to-day—shall try to get out in wheel chair9 this afternoon. (Don't know for certain)—This is the 4th I have sent since y'r departure.10

God bless you both & all— Walt Whitman  loc_zs.00122.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. Bucke 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). Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919), an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher, is best remembered as the literary executor and biographer of Walt Whitman. During the mid-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).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Dr Bucke | Asylum | London | Ontario | Canada. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Oct 26 | 5 PM | 90; London | M | Oc 27 | O | Canada. [back]
  • 2. The letter from Niagara is not extant. [back]
  • 3. Dr. Thomas was an oculist who had visited the poet on October 25, 1890; he examined Whitman and was to assist the poet in obtaining "suitable glasses." See Whitman's letter to Bucke of October 26, 1890. [back]
  • 4. On October 29, 1890, Bucke commented that the Philadelphia Press article "Whitman-Ingersoll-Death" "might have been worse—but it also might have been a good deal better without being anything wonderful." This article describes the discussion between Whitman and Robert Ingersoll (following Ingersoll's lecture at Horticultural Hall) held in the dining room of the Layfayette Hotel. [back]
  • 5. Henri Murger (1822–1861) was a French novelist and poet whose Scènes de la vie de bohème (1851) was the basis of Puccini's opera La bohème (1896). [back]
  • 6. At the Lafayette Hotel event, Whitman read what he described as "a translation of mine from the French of Henri Murger" of Murger's poem "The Midnight Visitor" (based on an Anacreon ode); the translation is printed in the Philadelphia Press article. [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. On October 21, 1890 at Horticultural Hall in Philadelphia, Robert Ingersoll delivered a lecture in honor of Walt Whitman titled Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman. Whitman recorded in his Commonplace Book that the lecture was "a noble, (very eulogistic to WW & L of G) eloquent speech, well responded to by the audience" and the speech itself was published in New York by the Truth Seeker Company in 1890 (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). Following the lecture event, Horace Traubel went to Canada with Bucke. Before this letter, Whitman sent letters to Bucke and Traubel on October 23, October 24, and October 25. Traubel returned to Camden on October 29th. [back]
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