Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 3 April 1886

Date: April 3, 1886

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01154

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Oct. 2d 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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

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West Park N.Y.
April 3d 86

Dear Walt,

I recd the books all right, also your letter & card.1 I am just back from Roxbury where I went a week ago to make sugar in the old woods of my boyhood; had a pretty good time, though too much storm. Only my brother is now upon the old farm. I have to go back there at least twice a year to ease my pain. Oh, the pathos of the old place where my youth was passed, where father & mother lived & died, & where my heart has always been!

I have been pretty well since I saw you, except that I have been off my sleep a good deal. Just now I am having a streak of sleeplessness. I do not quite know what to make of it. To-day is my birth-day, too, I am 49 today. I hope spring finds you better. I lately heard from you through J. W. Alexander, the artist. I think he will make a good picture of you.2 He is a fine fellow. I am glad to hear of the projected new book.3 I hope it is to be a reality. The title is good. My book "Signs & Seasons" will be out this month. I do not think much of it,—the poorest of my books, I think. No news with me. I hope to see you in May, as I go to Kentucky. I hope you will not try to face the summer again in Camden. It is very imprudent. A bright afternoon here, with remains of last nights snow still lingering.

With much love
J 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. Whitman had returned "three Vols. of your Emerson so long detained" to Burroughs on March 18, 1886. [back]

2. For three days beginning on Monday, February 22, 1886, Whitman sat for a portrait by Alexander. On April 17, 1891, Alexander informed Whitman that one of the poet's admirers had purchased and presented the painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: "I am delighted to have been the means of giving to future generations a portrait of you that is certainly one of my best works" (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). The naturalist John Burroughs, however, termed the portrait "a Bostonese Whitman—an emasculated Whitman—failing to show his power and ruggedness" (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 261). Whitman himself was not impressed (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, May 10, 1888 and Friday, June 8, 1888). [back]

3. Whitman's November Boughs was published in 1888 by David McKay. See also James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]." [back]


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