Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John and Ursula Burroughs, 2 March [1875]

Date: March 2, 1875

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:325. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00670

Contributors to digital file: Kenneth M. Price, Ashley Lawson, Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad




431 Stevens st.
cor West.
Camden
N. Jersey.
March 21

Dear John, & 'Sula,

This will show you that "the lamp still holds out to burn"—though I have had a bad two months past—I have had another paralytic stroke,2 but it passed over, without any thing serious, (it is probable I have had several slight strokes)—but I am feeling, as I write, about the same as is now usual for me—still entertain expectations—

If practicable I shall bring out a Vol. the coming summer—I hope to pay you the visit yet—Did you get the paper I sent with a report of Emerson's late lecture on Eloquence—of course interesting, from him, but nothing very stunning, it seemed to me—I see that Conway is coming to America next autumn certain, to see things, travel, lecture, &c—3

John, [I] send you the last letter from a quondam correspondent & unseen rebel friend of mine, away down in Alabama4—He seems to me a good affectionate fellow, a sort of uncut gem—I have had five or six letters from him, all primitive but good—What are you about?—& how are you & 'Sula getting along?


Walt Whitman

My brother & sister well—brother full of business—


Notes:

1. That this letter was written in 1875 is confirmed by the succeeding notes. In addition, as indicated in Whitman's February 24, 1875 letter to William J. Linton, Whitman had begun plans for a new edition of his works. [back]

2. Whitman experienced a stroke on February 16, 1875, as mentioned in Whitman's February 19, 1875 letter to Peter Doyle. [back]

3. Moncure D. Conway arrived in America in September 1875; in his September 14, 1875 letter to William J. Linton, Whitman mentioned that Conway had "just arr'd here from England." [back]

4. At the time Whitman wrote to Burroughs he had received, as he said, six letters from the colorful and eccentric John Newton Johnson, a self-styled philosopher from rural Alabama. There are about thirty letters from Johnson in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., but unfortunately there are no replies extant, although Whitman wrote frequently for a period of approximately fifteen years. When Johnson wrote for the first time on September 13, 1874, he was forty-two, "gray as a rat," a former Rebel soldier with an income between $300 and $400 annually, though before the war he had been "a youthful 'patriarch.'" He informed Whitman that during the past summer he had bought Leaves of Grass and after a momentary suspicion that the bookseller should be "hung for swindling," he discovered the mystery of Whitman's verse, and "I assure you I was soon 'cavorting' round and asserting that the $3 book was worth $50 if it could not be replaced. (Now Laugh)." He offered either to sell Whitman's poetry and turn over to him all profits or to lend him money. In the letter he enclosed a gold dollar: "So much grand poetry nearly kills me with the pain of delight." Characteristically, he concluded his letter with an unexpected question: "Walt! Are you Orthodox or Universalist? I am Materialist of late." On October 7, 1874, after describing Guntersville, Alabama, he commented: "Orthodoxy flourishes with the usual lack of flowers or fruit." His amusingly detailed description of his face on November 7, 1875, Whitman marked in red crayon. Thus Johnson became a self-designated philosophical jester to amuse Whitman. See also Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: R. G. Badger, 1915), 125–130. [back]


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