Title: Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 2 July 1866
Date: July 2, 1866
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 1:281. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: Location of original letter manuscript is unknown.
Whitman Archive ID: med.00316
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Janel Cayer, Vanessa Steinroetter, and Alyssa Olson
I went up to your house1 this morning and took a look at the garden—Everything growing first rate—potatoes, tomatoes, corn, cabbages, and all—I guess upon the whole the garden never looked better at this time of year. We have had opportune rains—I inquired about the cow, and received a favorable report. . . .
John, about coming, I am not able to say anything decisive in this letter. . . . Up in your Bureau all seems to go on as usual . . . John, I send you the July Atlantic.2 . . .
I am feeling hearty and in good spirits—go around more than usual—go to such doings as base-ball matches and the music Performances in the Public grounds—Marine Band, etc. . . .
I hope your parents are well—I wish you to give them my love—tho' I don't know them, I hope to one of these days—remember me to the wife, also.
I am writing this by my window in the office—the breeze is blowing moderate, and the view down the river and off along Virginia hills opposite is most delightful—the pardon clerks are middling busy—I have plenty of leisure, as usual—I spent yesterday afternoon at the Hospital, and took tea in the evening at O'Connor's.3
Piatt4 is trying to get transferred to New York, to the Custom House—Well, good by for present, you dear friend, and God bless you and wife, and bring you both safe back—
1. John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864, even though Burroughs had frequented Pfaff's beer cellar, where he consistently defended Whitman's poetry, in 1862. 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: Birds and Poets (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1877), Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person (New York: American News Co., 1867), Whitman, A Study (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1896), and Accepting the Universe (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1920). For more information on Burroughs see Burroughs, John (1837–1921) and Ursula (1836–1917). [back]
2. Probably Whitman sent this issue of the Atlantic Monthly because of Lowell's poem "To J. B." According to an annotation in the Harvard Library copy of the magazine, J. B. is John Bartlett, the compiler of quotations. One of Burroughs's friends, interestingly, was Joel Benton, a poet and reviewer; see Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1931), 18. The magazine also contains an account of Ferrero's (and therefore George's) siege at Knoxville. [back]
3. For a time Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles W. Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of Harrington, an abolition novel published by Thayer & Eldridge in 1860. He had been an assistant editor of the Saturday Evening Post before he went to Washington. O'Connor was an intelligent man who deserved something better than the various governmental clerical posts he was to hold until his death. The humdrum of clerkship, however, was relieved by the presence of Whitman whom he was to love and venerate—and defend with a single-minded fanaticism and an outpouring of vituperation and eulogy that have seldom been equaled, most notably in his pamphlet, "The Good Gray Poet." He was the first, and in many ways the most important, of the adulators who divided people arbitrarily into two categories: those who were for and those who were against Walt Whitman. The poet praised O'Connor in the preface to a posthumous collection of his tales: "He was a born sample here in the 19th century of the flower and symbol of olden time first-class knighthood. Thrice blessed be his memory!" (Complete Prose Works [New York, D. Appleton, 1910] pp. 513). For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors see O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]. [back]
4. John J. Piatt met Whitman on New Year's Day, 1863. Piatt was a versifier and author of Poems by Two Friends in collaboration with W. D. Howells; see Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (1931), 43. On February 12, 1866, he wrote a sympathetic account of Whitman and The Good Gray Poet for the Columbus (Ohio) Morning Journal; see Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (1931), 10, and William Sloane Kennedy, The Fight of a Book for the World (West Yarmouth, Massachusetts: The Stonecroft Press, 1926), 17. Burroughs quoted from Piatt's article in Notes on Walt Whitman (1867), 84–85. The Washington Directory of 1866 listed Piatt as a clerk in the Treasury Department; according to Barrus, he was later librarian of the House of Representatives and then consul at Cork (Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades , 12). [back]