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


212 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55022-252-X
DDC 610'.92





Cynthia R. Comacchio is an assistant professor of history at Wilfrid
Laurier University and the author of Nations Are Built of Babies: Saving
Ontario’s Mothers and Children.


Sir William Osler, a Canadian physician of worldwide renown, first
encountered the semi-invalid Walt Whitman in 1884, at the poet’s home
in Camden, New Jersey. Osler, a lifelong bibliophile and lover of
literature, began to engage in far-ranging critical discussions with his
new patient. The two struck up a warm relationship that was nurtured in
correspondence until the end of Whitman’s life in 1892. Shortly before
his own death in 1919, Osler committed himself to recording his
reminiscences about their friendship. His recollections were to
constitute an address at Oxford University, but Osler died before its
delivery. The unfinished manuscript was among the documents and books he
bequeathed to McGill University.

This publication reproduces Osler’s manuscript in its second chapter.
Subsequent chapters explore in detail the Osler–Whitman relationship,
including their common literary interest and their mutual friendships
with Edith Wharton and Henry James, as well as with members of the
medical profession in both North America and Great Britain. A chapter
depicts their relationship with the American realist painter Thomas
Eakins. As the editor aptly notes, “Whitman, Osler, and their mutual
friends are threads of a tapestry woven from the worlds of medicine,
literature and art.” Leon provides just enough contextualization and
explication in this annotated edition to make it a valuable—and
fascinating —study for students of literature, medicine, history, and


Leon, Philip W., “Walt Whitman and Sir William Osler: A Poet and His Physician,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/1145.