Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 10 August 1877
Date: August 10, 1877
Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977).
Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.01128
Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Anthony Dreesen, Vince Moran, and Nicole Gray
Aug. 10, 77
I am back only a few days from a 3 weeks trip to Canada.1 The morning after my return some wretch poisoned my dog & the loss has quite up set me. I have not been my self since. Then I am out of sorts in body & wife is away under the doctors care, so that I am not having a very good time. We traveled—Mr. Johns & me—about 2300 miles, & excepting a week spent in the woods north of Quebec, the trip was a good deal of a bore. We went by way of Boston & I ran about there some, I called on Gurnsey2 of the Boston Herald & found him a very likable young man—in fact a thoroughly good fellow. He said he had written to you, but had recd no reply yet. I told him you were probably away in the country. I liked the looks of Boston much. We poked about Cambridge some & then went over to Concord & passed a night there. I found Mr Sanborn3 & was cordially recd. I had seen him the day before in Boston. I like Sanborn all except his lofty coldness & reserve. It seems to be the style out there to affect ignorance of every thing you are interested in He showed us the home & some of the haunts of Thoreau, & then his grave & that of Hawthorne. He took me to see Alcott4 whom I liked. Alcott praised my Emerson piece, but Sanborn appeared not to know anything about my writings. We were at Alcotts only a few minutes. He spoke in a friendly way about you &c. We passed by Emersons house & I admired his wood pile, I did not feel like calling upon him of my own motion. Alcott said he was well. I liked Concord, but I don't see how any great thing can come out of that place.
I got the Library Table with Blood's sanguinary review of my book.5 It is very petty criticism & I think I can stand it better than Blood can. He evidently wanted to pitch into my Eagle, but was afraid of the claws. I hope I shall see you soon, as I must go to W. this month unless the heat is too oppressive. Write me how & where you are.
1. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
2. As is clear from the letter, Fred R. Guernsey was associated with the Boston Herald. In 1882 the newspaper supported Whitman against the Boston censors, and quoted Oscar Wilde's defense (Edwin Haviland Miller, Walt Whitman: The Correspondence, [New York: New York University Press], 3:283 n73). [back]
3. Franklin B. Sanborn (1831–1917) was an abolitionist and a friend of John Brown. In 1860, when he was tried in Boston because of his refusal to testify before a committee of the U.S. Senate, Whitman was in the courtroom (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: Macmillan, 1955], 242). He reviewed Drum-Taps in the Boston Commonwealth on February 24, 1866. He was editor of the Springfield Republican from 1868 to 1872, and was the author of books dealing with his friends Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. "A Visit to the Good Gray Poet" appeared without Sanborn's name in the Springfield Republican on April 19, 1876. For more on Sanborn, see Linda K. Walker, "Sanborn, Franklin Benjamin (Frank) (1831–1917)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 605. [back]
4. Amos Bronson Alcott (1799–1888) was an American educator, abolitionist, and father of Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888), whose 1868 novel Little Women (loosely based on the Alcott home) secured the financial stability her father had been unable to achieve through his own work as a teacher and transcendentalist. See also The Journals of Bronson Alcott, ed. Odell Shepard (Boston: Little, Brown, 1938), 286–290. [back]
5. Here Burroughs is referring to the review of his Birds and Poets written by critic Henry Amos Blood (1836–1900), published in Library Table 3:7 (19 July 1877), 107-109, and titled "Essays on Rural Topics." In it, Blood criticized some of Burroughs's extreme claims for Whitman but also noted the poet's virtues of sublimity and use of chiaroscuro, with "mostly superb passages." [back]