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Walt Whitman Has a Bad Cold

April 6, 2014

The following dispatches were published in The New York Times, the first in 1890, the remainder in 1891. I owe them to Zack Newick, blogging here at the Paris Review website (that post also contains a link to an amazing long article about an international ring of Irish Traveller antique rhino horn thieves, The Dead Zoo Gang; check it out). The Dr. Bucke mentioned is, of course, Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke, author of that curious classic, Cosmic Consciousness, much beloved by Raymond Smullyan, who, at this date, remains among the living. Whitman died on March 16th, 1892. 



PHILADELPHIA, May 26.–Walt Whitman, the poet, is suffering from a severe cold, contracted last Saturday while taking a walk. He has not been in his usual health for six months past. The balmy air of Saturday tempted him to take a walk and the result was a bad cold.


PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 22.–Walt Whitman’s great vitality has tided him over another day. His condition to-night is about the same as it was Monday, with the exception that he is possibly a little weaker. He is perfectly rational. Occasionally he takes a little liquid nourishment. Although prostrated for long periods in a sleep that resembles death in its quietness, he occasionally rallies and appears much stronger from the effect of the rest afforded him by his slumbers.

His little house on Micket Street is besieged all day by inquiring visitors anxious to learn of his condition. His warm friend, Dr. Buck of Canada, arrived this evening and spent several hours at the ports home. A rumor to the effect that the dying man would not live over night was was circulated to-day, but Dr. McAllister, the attending physician, says that there is no danger of him dying during the night. He said that his patient was gradually sinking and might possibly last for several days.


PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 27.–Walt Whitman had another rally to-day and was much stronger than on Saturday. He was in good spirits all day, and frequently chatted with his friend and biographer, Dr. Bucke. The nourishment that he took to-day consisted of an egg and a small piece of toast. The following dispatch was received by the poet on Christmas Day:

After the day the night, and after the night the dawn. Yours, with words of love and hope.

Dr. Bucke to-night expressed the opinion that Mr. Whitman would live for at least three or four days yet.


PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 28–There was little or no change in Walt Whitman’s condition today, his remarkable vitality still keeping him alive. His condition is very critical, and, while he may live for some time, a fatal change at any moment would not surprise his physicians.

The nurse who has been attending him continually during his illness, having completely worn out, was replaced to-day by a new one. Dr. Bucke, the poet’s close friend and biographer, left for his home in Canada to-day and will not return unless there is a change for the worse. The only nourishment that Mr. Whitman took to-day was a small mutton chop, which is the most solid food he has eaten since he was taken sick.

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