Life & Letters

Correspondence

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


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


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