Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 18 May 1885

Date: May 18, 1885

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.

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01151

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Kyle Barton, and Nicole Gray



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West Park N.Y.
May 18, 85

Dear Walt:

I have set my house & heart in order for a visit from you before these May days are ended. I trust you are well & really mean to come. Dr Bucke1 wrote me he should be here early in June to take you with him to Ontario. I want you for 10 days or two weeks before he comes. Can you not come the latter part of this week or early next? If you do not like to make the whole distance alone, I will meet you in Jersey City. Your best train to come by is the one that leaves J.C. a little before 4 p.m. & gets here at West Park at 6.45 The train leaves from the same depot (The Pennsylvania) you come in at.

You would enjoy the country here now, & it would add to the length of my days to see you here again.

Drop me a line how you feel, & when you will come. Ursula2 & Julian3 both want to see you.4

With much love,
John Burroughs


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Ursula North Burroughs (1836–1917) was John Burroughs's wife. Ursula and John were married on September 12, 1857. The couple maintained a small farm overlooking the Hudson River in West Park, Ulster County. They adopted a son, Julian, at two months of age. It was only later revealed that John himself was the biological father of Julian. [back]

3. Julian Burroughs (1878–1954), the only son of John Burroughs, later became a landscape painter, writer, and photographer. [back]

4. Whitman replied six days later, on May 24, 1885, writing "don't think I will be able to come up to West Park" due to health reasons. [back]


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