Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 7 October 1885

Date: October 7, 1885

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01152

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.

Editorial notes: The annotation, "a good letter ☞ read again," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "see notes June 30 & July 1 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Kyle Barton, and Nicole Gray

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West Park, N.Y.1
Oct. 7. 85

Dear Walt:

We left Ocean Grove the next day after I was with you, & are now all home again, safe & snug. I gave up the Ky. trip for the present, Gilder2 said next spring would do, so I expect to go next May, & see the season open down there.

I hope you are still mending, Walt. I am almost certain you eat too heartily & make too much blood & fat; at least that you eat too hearty food. As I told you, I was profoundly impressed by a couple of articles in the "Fortnightly Review" by Sir Wm Thompson, on "Diet with relation to Age & Activity" He shows very convincingly that as our activities fail by the advance of age, we must cut down on our food. If not the engine makes too much steam, things become cloged & congested & the whole economy of the system deranged. He says a little meat once a day is enough, & recommends the cereals & fruits. I think you make too much blood. This congested condition of your organs at times, shows it. Then you looked to me too fat; & fat at your age clogs, & hinders the circulation. I shall talk to my Dr about you when I see him again, but if I were you I would adopt such a diet as would make my blood as thin as possible, & so lessen the arterial strain This is common sense, & I believe good science. In the best health, we grow lean. Sir Wm Thompson, says like a man training for the ring.3 I gained much flesh this summer, & am dull & spiritless this fall. As a consequence, I must work it off some way.

Drop me a card if you can how you are.

With much love,
John Burroughs

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 decades-long 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).


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 322 Mickle St | Camden, | N.J. It is postmarked: WEST PARK, | OCT | 7 | 1885 | N.Y.; CAMDEN, N.J. | OCT | 1 PM | 8 | 1885 | REC'D. [back]

2. Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) was the assistant editor of Scribner's Monthly from 1870 to 1881 and editor of its successor, The Century, from 1881 until his death. Whitman had met Gilder for the first time in 1877 at John H. Johnston's (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: New York University Press, 1955], 482). Whitman attended a reception and tea given by Gilder after William Cullen Bryant's funeral on June 14; see "A Poet's Recreation" in the New York Tribune, July 4, 1878. Whitman considered Gilder one of the "always sane men in the general madness" of "that New York art delirium" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 5, 1888). For more about Gilder, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Richard Watson (1844–1909)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Whitman seems to have shared these views on nutrition, telling Horace Traubel in 1888: "John about hit the truth. But I have been very abstemious the past three years—very conservative—as you know, and still here I am thrown down. Well, my time has come—that is all. You see, I am somewhat of a fatalist!" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, July 1, 1888). [back]


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