Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 24 August 1882

Date: August 24, 1882

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01144

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.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schoeberlein, Kirsten Clawson, Eder Jaramillo, and Nicole Gray

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Esopus, NY,
Aug 24 1882

Dear Walt:

It seems they "reckon ill" who seek to suppress Leaves of Grass. It thrives on what would destroy it. It is a great satisfaction to hear that Edition after Edition is being sold. Your prose book too is a happy thought. I recd quite a long letter from Mrs Gilchrist the other day, part of which I extracted & sent to The Tribune (it was her suggestion) but I doubt if they print it; they have had so much on the subject of your poems, the Emerson letter &c. If you see it in The Tribune, please send me a copy, as I do not see the paper. Send me your N. A. Review article if you have one, I have not had a copy. Mrs. G. looks just the same as when you saw her, but she is getting quite asthmatic so that she quickly gets out of breath in walking. I was at her house a good many times. She lives in one of the most desirable parts of London; it was an hours ride out there on the ['buss'?]. Grace has changed some, the result I imagine of grief for the loss of her sister. The death of B. was not referred to by any of the family. Mr. Carpenter thinks she took her own life, in a fit of despondency. Mrs. G, I think is writing a life of Mary Lamb. Herbert G. has grown & matured. He works away vigorously at his art & has now & then a commission for a picture. When I arrived he was in Wales painting a portrait. We had many tramps together, down in Kent; walked from Rochester to Maidstone & back—16 miles—then over Jade Hill to Gravesend 8 miles, then from Feversham to Canterbury, 8 miles, then one Sunday along the Thames, beyond Richmond &c. Herbert is a pretty good fellow—little to opinionated yet. His best pictures of you are his rough sketches of your attitudes there at Kirkwood—the face blank but the figure & pose so characteristic that any one who knew you could swear to them. He has quite an elaborate crayon portrait of your front face, but it is too tearful & sad. He knew Dante Rossetti & has a high opinion of him, but I do not like him, he is so abnormal. I told Mrs G. that he seemed to me, judging from both his poems & his pictures, like a man who lived entirely indoors, & had never seen a tree, or a cow or any object in nature. She said it was pretty near the fact, that he lived entirely in his study, took no exercise in the open air, & when he got so he could not sleep took chloral in larger & larger doses, & thus killed himself. Such a man cannot be a great poet or artist to me. All his work is tainted with this defiance of nature. I have his last book of poems & I cannot find one healthful poetic throb in it. It is full of a kind of impotent chloral intoxication. Yes, I was much put out with Wm Rossetti; it was not so much what he said about your poems, perhaps he said as much in his preface to the English Edition, but his manner, his coldness, his indifference. He did not even ask about your health, or any other human thing, & made me feel that my call upon him, miserable petrefied cockney that he is, was an unwelcome interruption. I had resolved, for reasons of my own, not to call upon any of those fellows, & I feel like throttling Herbert for making me depart from my resolution. The common people of England are a hearty full blooded race & I like them, but the moment you touch their cultivated literary class there is something so damned frigid, so blasé, so supercilious & indifferent that one wants to murder them. I had two or three invitations after that to meet people & to dine out but I declined them all. There is a taint of what I refer to even in Carpenter. I feel perpetually as if I wanted to stir him up with a long pole well sharpened. When a man loses his enthusiasm & his curiosity, it is time he was buried.

I liked the Scotch much better than the English. They are a racy, whole soul'd enthusiastic people. I had some very pleasant experiences there. I wish you could see those countries beyond the sea. It was quite a revelation to me—that nature could be so human, & yet so thoroughly nature. She is like the domestic animals, docile & friendly, but yet rude & strong. And then such repose & finish as there is in that landscape, is a new experience. We had a fine voyage over, such the American sun & climate in mid-ocean—clean, bright, hot, a sea of burnished steel day after day,—& at night the stars. It seemed as if I had not seen them for years! I am counting on seeing you up there this fall.

Write again,
With much love.

If you have a copy of my "Notes" to spare, send it to O'Connor. I have but one.


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