Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 21 December 1885

Date: December 21, 1885

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 3:413–414. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00543

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




328 Mickle Street Camden
Dec: 21 '851

My dear friend

Real glad to hear from you once more, as by yours of 18th—The death of Mrs: Gilchrist is indeed a gloomy fact—she had cancer, & suffered much the last three months of her life with asthma—for a long time "every breath was a struggle," Herbert expresses it—the actual cause of death was dilatation of the heart. Seems to me mortality never enclosed a more beautiful spirit—

The trouble ab't my eyesight passed over, & I use both eyes now same as before—I am living here, rather monotonously, but get along—as I write, feel ab't the same as of late years—only the walking power seems quite gone from me, I can hardly get from one room to another—sometimes quite force myself to get out a few yards, but difficult & risky—

O'Connor seems to be holding on at Washington—I think he is middling well, except the leg power—his "gelatine legs" he calls them—will pass over I rather think—

I drove down yesterday (Sunday) to my friends the Staffords, 10 miles from here, & staid three hours, had dinner &c—I go there every Sunday—So I get stirr'd up some, but not half enough—three reasons, my natural sluggishness & the paralysis of late years, the weather, & my old, stiff, slow horse, with a lurking propensity to stumble down—

The "free will offering" of the English, through Rossetti, has amounted in the past year to over $400—I am living on it—I get a miserable return of royalties from McKay, my Philad. publisher—not $50 for both books L of G. and S D for the past year2

John, I like both the names in your note—I cannot choose—if I lean at all it is in favor of "Spring Relish"3—either would be first rate—Did you get W S Kennedy's pamphlet "the Poet as a Craftsman"4—I hear from Dr Bucke quite often—he was the past season somewhat broken in physical stamina & health—but is better—he gives up for the present his European tour, but is coming here soon for a week—As I close, my bird is singing like a house afire, & the sun is shining out—I wish you were here to spend the day with me—


W W

Merry Christmas to you and 'Sula5 and the boy—


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. This letter is addressed: John Burroughs | West Park | Ulster county | New York. It is postmarked: Camden | Dec | 21 | 2 PM | 1885 | N.J.; New York | Dec 21(?) | 7 30 (?) | (?) | (?). [back]

2. Actually $42.77 (see the letter from Whitman to William Michael Rossetti of November 30, 1885). S D refers to Whitman's Specimen Days[back]

3. "A Spring Relish" became the title of a chapter in Burroughs's Signs and Seasons (1886). [back]

4. Burroughs, in his letter of December 31, stated that he liked what William Sloane Kennedy had to say about Whitman in his pamphlet, but thought that the statements about style were unsound. [back]

5. Sula is Burroughs's wife, Ursula, and the boy is their son Julian, born in 1878. [back]


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