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Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 2 February 1891


Rec'd Clare's2 letter while I was at breakfast, & it sort o' struck a chill thro' me3—have been thinking of you as so invulnerable—But solace myself with y'r cheery lines will no doubt be near right in two days more—Sun out here—nothing very new—fair spirits this mn'g—toast & tea & rare fresh egg—bowel voidance—glad you got the last pict's—somehow I like them best of any—(dont part with any except markedly enjoined by will & heart self)—Warry4 is half or three quarters sick (what they call a bilious spell)—Have been reading Osler's5 letter in Feb: Century on Women in Johns Hopkins6—like it—Hope this will find you cheery—but that I am sure—& all right again or toward it—

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: Camden, N.J. | Feb 2 | 6 PM | 91. [back]
  • 2. Jessie Clare Bucke (1870–1943) was the daughter of the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke and his wife, Jessie Maria Gurd (1839–1926). [back]
  • 3. Apparently Bucke's daughter, Jessie Clare Bucke (1870–1943), wrote about her father's illness in a missing letter. On February 4, 1891, Bucke minimized his indisposition: "You see I was not sick—just a little pain and bad cold." [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Sir William Osler (1849–1919) was a Canadian physician and one of the four founding staff members of Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he served as the first Chief of Medicine. Richard Maurice Bucke introduced Osler to Whitman in 1885 in order to care for the aging poet. Osler wrote a manuscript about his personal and professional relationship with Whitman in 1919; see Philip W. Leon, Walt Whitman and Sir William Osler: A Poet and His Physician [Toronto: ECW Press, 1995]). For more on Osler, see Philip W. Leon, "Osler, Dr. William (1849–1919)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on the relationship of Osler and Whitman, see Michael Bliss, William Osler: A Life in Medicine (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999). [back]
  • 6. See Osler's "Open Letter," Century Magazine, 41 (February 1891), 635. [back]
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