Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 27 April 1888

Date: April 27, 1888

Editorial notes: The annotations, "6½ | 4½ | 10 | 5 | 10 | 36 | 7½ | 43½," "4.3½ | 3.2½ | 161," and "5 | 2½ | 7½," are in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "4/27/88," 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.

Location: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Whitman Archive ID: yal.00240

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden1
noon
April 27 '88

Dear J B

I was real glad to get word—& good word—from you this morning by your postal card of 25th—the early summer has always been your time & it seems to keep so just the same—Dr Bucke2 writes often & is the same good staunch friend—he is still at his Asylum, Canada, & full of work—some lecturing—Kennedy3 is well, living at Belmont still, & at work in Cambridge—his book ab't me not yet printed, but I believe it is settled to come out by the Glasgow publisher Wilson—

I rec'd a good & quite copious letter from O'Connor4 ab't a week ago—he is still very ill, appears to be little or no real improvement—nothing critical however—has paralysis—writes with the old fire & fervor

—With me things move on much the same—a little feebler every successive season & deeper inertia—brain power apparently very little affected, & emotional power not at all—I yet write a little for the Herald5—&c.—Mrs Louise Chandler Moulton6 was here a day or two ago—pleasant visit—I have lately rec'd a letter from Prof: Hamlin Garland7 who is lecturing in Boston, wh' I enclose, with slips—Send to Dr Bucke, after reading—As I write, I am sitting down stairs in my big arm chair—My sister Lou (George's wife)8 has just been here—It looks like such a fine & bright weather I shall try to get out in my rig.


Walt Whitman

As I finish I get a letter from Dr B.9 & returning two I sent him to read—I will enclose them also in this—


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: Cam [illegible] | A [illegible] | 48 [illegible] | 88. The envelope includes Whitman's address, printed as follows: WALT. WHITMAN, Camden, | NEW JERSEY. [back]

2. 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]

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. 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)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Whitman contributed to a series of poems and prose pieces to the New York Herald at the invitation of the editor, James Gordon Bennett, Jr. From December 1887 through August 1888, 33 of Whitman's poems were published in the paper. [back]

6. Louise Chandler Moulton (1835–1908) was an American poet and critic who published several collections of verse and prose, as well as regular contributions to the New York Tribune and Boston Herald.  [back]

7. Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) was an American novelist and autobiographer, known especially for his works about the hardships of farm life in the American West. For his relationship to Whitman, see Thomas K. Dean, "Garland, Hamlin," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). On April 19, 1888, Garland, who was a friend of Kennedy's, wrote to the poet for the first time. He was giving a series of lectures entitled "Literature of Democracy" in which he was "trying to analyze certain tendencies of American life somewhat in accordance with the principles you have taught." Garland did not share Kennedy's gloom about Whitman's reception: "I am often astonished at finding so many friends and sympathizers in your work and Cause. In my teaching and lecturing I find no difficulty in getting Converts to the new doctrine and find your poems mainly irresistible in effect. True they do not always agree that they are 'poems' though acknowledge their power and beauty. I do not care what they call them (I say to them) and receive their allegiance just the same." [back]

8. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Walt's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. Their son, Walter Orr Whitman, was born in 1875 but died the following year. A second son was stillborn. Walt lived in Camden, New Jersey, with George and Louisa from 1873 until 1884, when George and Louisa moved to a farm outside of Camden and Whitman decided to stay in the city. Louisa and Walt had a warm relationship during the poet's final decades. For more, see Karen Wolfe, "Whitman, Louisa Orr Haslam (Mrs. George) (1842–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. See the letter from Richard Maurice Bucke to Whitman of April 25, 1888[back]


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