Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 12 July 1889

Date: July 12, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01170

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: Kara Wentworth, Breanna Himschoot, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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West Park N.Y.
July 12, 891

Dear Walt:

I write you briefly this morning before starting on my 2 weeks vacation to Delaware Co. I recd the pocket book copy2 of L.G. & prize it very highly. It is unique. I was very sorry I could not see you on the day you was 70 years old. At that time I was having one of my streaks of insomnia, & was very wretched for two or three weeks. It has worn off & I am feeling much better.

The summer has been a very busy one with me. The young grape vines grow so fast that it keeps me going to tie them up to the stalks. I go about all day with two balls of twine at my side, training the young vines in the way they should go, & tying them in that way.

I do hope you keep about. I wish some good masculine angel would come & lift you out of Camden, bag & baggage & set you down here, or or by the sea, or in the mountains A change of air now would greatly add to the length of your days. You ought to know this, & I will not bore you with it. I hear from Horace3 now & then, always gladly. I have not seen O'Connor's4 review of Donnelly's5 Reviewers.6 If you have a copy send it to me at Hobart N.Y. & I will return it.

With much love
John Burroughs


Correspondent:
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 lifelong 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).

Notes:

1. Whitman sent this letter from Burroughs to the Canadian physician and psychiatrist Richard Maurice Bucke, including it as an enclosure with his letter to Bucke of July 13, 1889[back]

2. Whitman had a limited pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass printed in honor of his 70th birthday, on May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary[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 mid-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," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). 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]

5. Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831–1901) was a politician and writer, well known for his notions of Atlantis as an antediluvian civilization and for his belief that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon, an idea he argued in his book The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, published in 1888. [back]

6. In his pamphlet Mr. Donnelly's Reviewers (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1889), O'Connor attempted to defend Ignatius Donnelly's Baconian theories, as found in The Great Crytogram (1887). [back]


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