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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 13 November 1890


Now abt 2 PM—have been out to Mrs: Harned's2 (Tom's3 mother's) funeral at noon & for quite a spin in wheel chair4 since—the sun came out finely after a cloudy mn'g & the past two days' rain—a little cool.—The grip (I suppose it is) bad enough on me, & this persistent belly ache varied with dots shoots of spasms of pain (quite instantaneous) in abdomen—have the pain early morning, bed rising—my eating sufficiently careful I guess—drink tea the last week (no coffee)—Dr Thomas5 came over & Fox6 subsequently with nice glasses wh' upon trial did not seem to agree with my eyes—strained them, & less clear than my old ones, wh' I resumed & since prefer to use—but something may come of it yet—Am specially unwell to-day, head ache but shall probably soon be as usual—I sit here as usual—prospect of fine weather the rest of the day—The hatter7 (Phil) said the hat c'd not be well done over, & sent it back to me—have sold one or two big books8 lately9

Walt Whitman  loc_zs.00134.jpg  loc_zs.00135.jpg  loc_jm.00272.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, N. J. | NOV 14 | 6 AM | 90; N. Y. | 11-14-90 | 1030AM | [illegible]; LONDON | PM | NO 15 | 91 | CANADA. Whitman wrote this letter on the blank verso of a piece of stationery printed with the following: Department of Justice | Washington. __187. [back]
  • 2. Harriet Parkerson Harned (1824–1890) was born in England, and she married Henry S. Harned (1819–1906) in 1848. The couple had at least four sons: Henry Harned (1849–1934), Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921), Frank Harned (1855–after 1930), and John Frederick Harned (1856–1929). [back]
  • 3. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. Edward B. Fox was an optician with an office on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. He invented and patented several types of eyeglasses in the late 1880s and early 1890s (see The Jeweler's Circular and Horological Review [November 28, 1894], 68). [back]
  • 7. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. On November 5 Whitman sent Complete Poems & Prose to F. Townsend Southwick, of New York City (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Southwick was the director of a school of oratory, who, in an undated fragment, probably written in 1890, requested permission "to select & edit a number of your poems for class use & recitation." [back]
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