Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 21 February [1880]

Date: February 21, 1880

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01135

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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 created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Grace Thomas, Eder Jaramillo, Kevin McMullen, and Nicole Gray

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431 Stevens Street
Camden New Jersey1
Feb: 21

Dear friend

Yours of 20th, with enclosure, came safely2—Best thanks—Yours of four days previous also, telling me of Smith3 and family's removal—which quite put me out too—Nothing very new with me, since my return—I have not written out for print any notes of my jaunt yet—I am well, considering—

—Addington Symonds has sent me a copy of the American edition of his "Greek Poets"4—Ruskin has sent to me five sets of my books5—Does Mrs Gilchrist write to you?6 They are well—are all in London, except Beatrice, who is in Switzerland—As I write (near noon Saturday) it is snowing heavily here—Dr Bucke, of London, Canada is writing my life—I suppose he has sent you his printed circular, asking information &c. What do you think of the project?7

Walt Whitman

rec'd a letter from Mrs Ritter—She speaks of a musical composition of her husband, to go with my "Two Veterans"—& asks if I am willing it should be published—I answered expressing my consent8


1. Thhis letter is addressed: John Burroughs | Esopus-on-Hudson | Ulster Co: | New York. It is postmarked: Camden | Feb | 21 | N.J. [back]

2. Whitman received a check for $25 from Burroughs on February 20 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

3. Smith Caswell, Burroughs's hired hand. See the letter from Whitman to John Burroughs of December 12, 1878[back]

4. Studies of the Greek Poets was published in a two-volume edition in 1879–1880 in Boston. [back]

5. On February 16, 1880, Whitman received from Ruskin £10 for five sets of books through Herbert J. Bathgate, to whom the books were sent on February 19 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). In a letter on January 31, Bathgate quoted a recent communication from Ruskin: "The reason neither he (yourself) nor Emerson are read in England is first—that they are deadly true—in the sense of rifles—against all our deadliest sins. The second that this truth is asserted with an especial colour of American egotism which good English scholars cannot, and bad ones will not endure. This is the particular poison and tare by which the Devil has rendered their fruit ungatherable but by gleaning and loving hands, or the blessed ones of the poor." The first sentence of this letter was quoted in The Athenaeum on March 20, 1880. See also the letter from Whitman to William Harrison Riley of March 18, 1879[back]

6. In her letter on January 25, 1880, Anne Gilchrist added this postscript: "Please give my love to John Burroughs when you write or see him" (The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman, ed. Thomas B. Harned [New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1918], 192). Beatrice Gilchrist was studying medicine in Switzerland. [back]

7. On January 19, Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke asked Whitman for "a sketch of your interior life—especially in relation to the conception and elaboration of 'Leaves of Grass.'" On February 3 he acknowledged receipt of articles about the poet by O'Connor, Burroughs, and Gilchrist, and again requested more "inward and outward" facts about the poet's life. On February 6 Bucke noted his recent lectures on Whitman's poetry and his arrangements for the sale of his works, a subject to which he again referred in letters on March 18 and March 23. In his "circular" soliciting information about the poet, Bucke wrote: "I am myself fully satisfied that WALT WHITMAN is one of the greatest men, if not the very greatest man, that the world has so far produced" (The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library). [back]

8. Frédéric Louis Ritter, composer and professor at Vassar College (see the letter from Whitman to John Burroughs of February 21, 1880) composed a setting for "Dirge for Two Veterans." Kenneth P. Neilson, in The World of Walt Whitman Music: A Bibliographical Study (1963), lists only one work by Ritter. [back]


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