Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 26 October 1887

Date: October 26, 1887

Editorial note: The annotation, "10/26/87," 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.01547

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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Oct 26, '87

early P M—have just had my dinner, (plain boil'd beef, potatoes & a roast apple—all relish'd well) & am now sitting here in my big chair in the little front room

—Cold & cloudy out—looks like winter

—O'C2 was here eight days ago, spent an afternoon & Evn'g with me—& is now in Wash'n, & at the office—He is in a pretty bad way—paralysis the Dr now calls it—(I will get Kennedy3 to send you on a letter giving fuller details)—The Pall Mall Gaz. letter you speak of appears to have erased a sentence or two (showing my gratitude & appreciation of home helpers)4—but even as it is I hope it doesn't bear the construction you speak of—I enclose my last two bits5 tho you may have seen them before—

I have just recd letters from Dr B6 and Kennedy—Herbert G7 went back five weeks ago, with his picture,8 & I have heard from him & it in London—they like the portrait—the Smiths9 are back in Phila—I am much as usual—but the peg-letting down goes on with accelerated pace—

Walt Whitman

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 letter is addressed: John Burroughs | West Park | Ulster County | New York. It is postmarked: Camden [illegible] | Oct 26 | 4 30 PM | 87; New York | Oct 26 | 11 PM | [illegible] | Transit. Whitman's name and city are printed on the envelope as follows: Walt Whitman, | Camden, | New Jersey. [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. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. See Whitman's letter to William T. Stead of August 17, 1887[back]

5. Whitman is referring to the poem "Shakspere-Bacon's Cipher" and the cluster of poems "November Boughs," published respectively in Cosmopolitan, 4 (October 1887), 142, and Lippincott's Magazine, 40 (November 1887), 722–723. (Note that the cluster of poems is distinct from the volume, also entitled November Boughs, published in 1888.) [back]

6. 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]

7. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Herbert Gilchrist carried the original of his painting of Whitman with him back to England, leaving behind a copy in the U.S. [back]

9. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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