Title: Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 19 December 1886
Date: December 19, 1886
Editorial note: The annotation, "Walt Whitman's Autograph [illegible].," is in an unknown hand.
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.01158
Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Kyle Barton, and Nicole Gray
328 Mickle street
Dec 19 '86
Send you a paper, you must have got, (or soon will) O'C's2 last letter to me,3 I sent to to Dr. B.4 I am ab't as usual & comfortable—have had two bad spells already this winter—been outdoors to-day, first time in two weeks—am writing some—
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).
1. This postal card is addressed: John Burroughs | West Park | Ulster County | New York. It is postmarked: CAMDEN | DEC | 19 | [illegible] | N.J.; PHILADELPHIA, PA. | DEC | 19 | 6 PM | 1886 | TRANSIT. [back]
2. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]. [back]
3. O'Connor's gloomy account of his health in his letter of December 10. Richard Maurice Bucke sent the letter to Burroughs, who returned it to Whitman on December 21 and observed: "'Tis a pity he sits down and lets this thing creep over him. He could do much to fight it off or keep it at bay." Whitman concurred: "William is not of the despondent but of the hypochondriac turn: he hasn't made the fight just as I have" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, February 11, 1889). [back]
4. 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]