Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 16 July 1888

Date: July 16, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01163

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: Jeannette Schollaert, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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West Park, N.Y.
July 16, 1888

Dear Walt:

You can hardly imagine what pleasure it gave me to see your bold strong hand again on a letter, you look as well as ever in that address, & it is such a satisfaction to know you are really better. I believe now you will come out of this crisis as you have out of so many others & be yourself again. It is too bad that you have to be cooped up in that way. If you could only get up strength of body & will to get out! What do you eat? I have made the discovery that raw clams are very strengthening & that the juice is a tonic, but I need not tell an old Long Islander like you the virtue there is in clams. I eat them from the shell without any seasoning. Try some. This cool weather I know you enjoy. It sounded so good to hear you speak of its raining. It is dry as a bone here, no rain for many weeks, my potato crop is cut short 50 per cent, & all my young vines & plants are suffering much. Indeed we have had no rain to speak of since the great snow storm in March. I hope O'C.1 is really mending. If he comes to Camden let me know & I will come down too & see him. I try to keep absorbed in my farm operations. It is much better for me than to mope about nibbling at literature. I want to get a sniff of salt water again this summer or early fall, & I do so hope you will be well enough to join me. I know the sight of the sea would give you a lift. We are all well. My regards to Horace Traubel.2 Tell me something about him when you write again. I am very anxious to see November Boughs3 I do no writing at all. Send me a card when you are in the mood.

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. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. 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]

2. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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