Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman 20 December 1891

Date: December 20, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01179

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Dec 21 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock

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West Park N.Y.
Dec 20. 18911

Dear Walt:

I was reading in your Nov. Boughs2 the other night & was for a long time thinking of you intently. I seemed to realize you very vividly & of all you have been to me, & of all you still are. I have had no word directly from you in a long time. I thought I should see you before this, but here I am in the old ruts. I must get down your way this winter. I keep pretty well & lead an eventless life: read a few books, write a little now & then, & work on my place. I saw by the paper you were not as well as usual which makes me grieve. I hope you are able to send me a card: if you are not have Horace3 do it—I long to have some word from you Not much winter here yet. No snow at all. Julian4 has just had his first skate. He grows finely & is getting to be an omnivorous reader. Wife5 is well except rheumatism. I go to Roxbury to-morrow on business. Hoping you will be able to eat your Christmas turkey with relish

I am with much 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 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).


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden, | New Jersey. It is postmarked: WEST PARK, | DEC | 21 | 1891 | N. Y.; CAMDEN, N.J. | DEC 21 | 4 PM | REC'D; [illegible]. [back]

2. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr.,"November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was a close acquaintance of Walt Whitman and one of the poet's literary executors. He met Whitman in 1873 and proceeded to visit the aging author almost daily beginning in mid-1880s. The result of these meetings—during which Traubel took meticulous notes—is the nine-volume collection With Walt Whitman in Camden. Later in life, Traubel also published Whitmanesque poetry and revolutionary essays. He died in 1919, shortly after he claimed to have seen a vision of Whitman beckoning him to 'Come on'. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. (1858–1919), Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 740–741. [back]

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

5. Ursula North (1836–1917) married John Burroughs in 1857 and became a friend to Walt Whitman, a frequent guest in the Burroughs household. When issues of sexual incompatibility arose in the Burroughs marriage, Whitman sided with Ursula against John's sexual "wantonness" and eventual infidelity. While John Burroughs traveled a great deal due to his job as a bank examiner, Ursula and Whitman visited frequently, with Ursula visiting the poet after his stroke in 1873. For more on Whitman's relationship with the Burroughs family, see "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]." [back]


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