Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 27 August 1889

Date: August 27, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01172

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, Caterina Bernardini, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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West Park N.Y.
Aug 27, 89

Dear Walt:

I have been back home since 21st of July. I had to come back to look after my farm. The heavy rains came near washing it away. Wife & Julian1 are still up in the mountains & are well. I & my man live alone in the old house, I am chief cook & bottle washer I keep well & busy, & am not having a very bad time after all. In a couple of weeks my grapes will be all off (only 1/2 crop this year) & I shall take another holiday

Hope to see you in Sept, I trust you keep well as usual. I rec'd a letter from you at Hobart which I sent on to Buck,2 with one from Eldridge,3 I read Williams4 pamphlet on Donnelley's Reviewers5 with melancholy enjoyment. It is very brilliant & effective, quite equal to his best work I think. If he had only left out some of his mud-Epithets, and if he had only not claimed Montaignes Essays & Burtons Melancholy for Bacon! How such a claim as that does discredit the whole business. I suppose the evidence that Montaigne wrote his Essays is as good as that Bacon wrote the Essays that bear his name. Wm was fated to slop over in just this way, & to steel his reader against him. I have as yet seen no allusion to his book in the literary journals.

I wish you were here to enjoy this view, & this air, & also my grapes & peaches. Drop me a card.

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

2. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903) was one half of the Boston-based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who issued the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. In December 1862, on his way to find his injured brother George in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Walt Whitman stopped in Washington and encountered Eldridge, who had become a clerk in the office of the army paymaster, Major Lyman Hapgood. Eldridge eventually obtained a desk for Whitman in Hapgood's office. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge, see David Breckenridge Donlon, "Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903)." [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. In his pamphlet Mr. Donnelly's Reviewers (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1889), William D. O'Connor attempted to defend Ignatius Loyola Donnelly's Baconian argument—his theory that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon—an idea Donnelly wrote about in his book The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, published in 1888. The book was published just two weeks after O'Connor's death. [back]


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