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August 21, 1996

Walt Whitman and Sir William Osier: A Poet and His Physician

Author Affiliations

Kansas City, Mo

JAMA. 1996;276(7):575-576. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540070071037

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Walt Whitman was 65 years old in 1884, living in Camden, NJ, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Pa. Several years earlier he had suffered the first of a series of strokes. William Osler had just moved to Philadelphia that year. Dr William Bucke, a Canadian psychiatrist and friend of Osler's, asked him to visit the poet, but Osler was not sure who Whitman was. He later recalled Dr. Bucke's praise, in which he put Whitman in the same league as "Darwin, Buddha and Mahomet." After taking the ferry from Philadelphia to Camden, Osler found the poet's house on Mickle Street jampacked with books, papers, newspapers, envelopes, scraps, bits of string, and other literary litter covering every surface. It was nearly impossible for the doctor to navigate to the poet, who, in flowing white hair and beard, peeked over mounds of paper.

After meeting Whitman and recalling Dr Bucke's praise,