Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 23 December 1888

Date: December 23, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01166

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: Ryan Furlong, Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, and Caterina Bernardini

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West Park N.Y.
Dec 23d 1888

Dear Walt:

I am sitting here in my bark-covered study this bright sharp day, writing you this note. I look from the open fire that burns in the chimney, & the wood of which I cut & hauled up the hill myself, out of the window on to the river just covered with new ice, on off over the brown gray landscape. I am feeling well, better than one year ago this time, my summers work I think has put something into me I much needed. I am still busy nearly every day in the open air. There is no snow & the ground for the past few days has been like iron. As soon as the snow comes we shall probably go to Po'Keepsie to board a while. Julian1 says he rather stay here, & he likes the country, & likes the school here. He learns well & begins to read books on his own hook. The other day at the close of the term of school he read his first composition in public. It was a real piece. It was about "Papas Dogs" & gave much amusement. He spoke a couple of pieces also, & easily carried off the honors. He is now reading "Tom Brown at Rugby."2 I trust, dear Walt, you are better than when you wrote a couple of weeks ago, & that you will have a fairly good Christmas. If you are not in the mood to write me yourself ask Horace Trauble 3 to drop me a card. Nothing notable comes to or happens to me. I read a little, write none at all, go nowhere, & try to make the most of the [prose?] of life. If I could only continue my farm work or else hibernate like a woodchuck I should be glad. If you have any late news from O'Connor4 please let me have it. With much love & a merry Christmas to you I am

Ever Yours
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. Julian Burroughs (1878–1954), the only son of John and Ursula Burroughs, later became a landscape painter, writer, and photographer. [back]

2. Tom Brown at Rugby (1857) is a novel by British writer and politician Thomas Hughes (1822–1896). [back]

3. 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]

4. 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]


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