Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 17 December 1889

Date: December 17, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01174

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, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Poughkeepsie N.Y.
12 Ca [illegible]e St
Dec 17, 89

Dear Walt;

I was very glad to see that you was able to get down stairs to your thanksgiving dinner, & I trust you will be able to get down to your Christmas dinner, & to do full justice to it. We are dwellers in this town again this winter. Wife hired rooms here 1st of Nov, & went to housekeeping. I clung to the farm & lived alone with my dog, coming down here Sundays & stormy weather. Now the snow has come I shall probably be here most of the time. I am pretty well, but a good deal troubled. The old farm where I was born has come back upon my hands & is very embarrassing. I tried to help my brother through with it, but he has proved unequal to the task & I have had to take it to secure myself from heavy loss. But I shall lose 8 or 9 hundred dollars in any event & may be much more, I go out there again this afternoon. Julian1 goes to school & is well, Mrs. B.2 is pretty well.

I had some correspondence this fall with a daughter of Chas. Kingsley.3 She wrote me for a copy of your poems. She is greatly taken with them, but says there are things in them that make her gasp. Her mother, a lady of 80 is very enthusiastic over them. She seems to be one of the best readers you ever had.

I suppose a great poet has passed away in Browning.4 It is curious that I can make nothing of him. His manner always repells me & his matter is not interesting. I trust you keep well as usual & that I shall hear from you soon

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

2. Ursula North Burroughs (1836–1917) was John Burroughs's wife. Ursula and John were married on September 12, 1857. The couple maintained a small farm overlooking the Hudson River in West Park, Ulster County. They adopted a son, Julian, at two months of age. It was only later revealed that John himself was the biological father of Julian. [back]

3. Charles Kingsley (1819–1875) was a novelist, a Church of England clergyman, and a controversialist. [back]

4. The English poet Robert Browning (1812–1889), known for his dramatic monologues, including "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess," was also the husband of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861). [back]


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