Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 6 October 1888

Date: October 6, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01165

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, "10\6\88," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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Oct 6 '881

Dear JB

I send you O'Connor's2 just rec'd, as I know you want to hear—Pretty much "the same subject continued" yet with me—I am still imprisoned in my sick room—good spirits & ab't the same mentality as ever—great blessings & remains & privileges—but after that is said pretty much every thing wreck'd else—But I must not get into complaining—nor do I fall there—Will send you Nov. Boughs,3 for it is done—In a month the big book4—Best love—Send O'C's letter to Dr B5

Walt Whitman

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: John Burroughs | West Park | Ulster County | New York. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Oct 6 | 8 PM | 88; Philadelphia, Pa | Oct 6 | 8PM | 1888 | [illegible] . Whitman's name and address are printed on the envelope as follows: Walt Whitman, | Camden, | New Jersey. [back]

2. 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]

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]

4. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]

5. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902), the Canadian physician and psychiatrist, noted receipt of O'Connor's letter in his October 11, 1888, letter to Whitman: "He [O'Connor] is a grand fellow that, the grandest of all your friends—a hero." O'Connor's letter, dated October 5, 1888, according to Bucke, is apparently lost, but the contents are summarized in Whitman's letter of October 7, 1888 to William Sloane Kennedy. [back]


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