Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 11 June 1888

Date: June 11, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01335

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 July 3, 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Breanna Himschoot, Stephanie Blalock, and Ian Faith

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West Park, N.Y.
June 11, 88.1

Dear Walt:

I hear through Kennedy2 that you are ill or was so last Monday. I do hope you are well again. Drop me a card if you are able & tell me how you are. I meant to find time soon to come down & see you, if company does not bore you. I shall think of you as able to be out occasionally enjoying these June days. The world has not been so beautiful to me for a long time as this spring: probably because I have been at work like an honest man. I had, in my years of loafing, forgotten how sweet toil was. I suppose those generations of farmers back of me have had something to do with it. They all seem to have come to life again in me & are happy since I have taken to the hoe & the crow-bar. I had quite lost any interest in literature & was fast losing my interest in life itself, but these two months of work have sharpened my appetite for all things. I write you amid the fragrance of clover & the hum of bees. The air is full these days of all sweet meadow & woodland smells. The earth seems good enough to eat.

I propose for a few years to come to devote myself to fruit growing. I have 17 acres of land now, mainly all of it full in grapes & currants & raspberries. I think I can make some money & may be renew my grip upon life. I was glad to see Kennedy. I like him much.

How I wish you was here, or somewhere else in the country where all these sweet influences of the season could minister to you. Your reluctance to move is just what ought to be overcome. It is like the lethargy of a man beginning to freeze.

We are all well. Julian3 goes to school in Po'keepsie, & is a fine boy. He goes & returns daily in the little steamer. I hope O'Connor4 is no worse. So drop me a line.

With much love
J 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. This letter has a note in the top left corner that reads: "see notes Jul ? 1888. It is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden | N.J. It is postmarked: ? | Jun | 11 | 1880 | N.Y., NY | 6-11-88 | 5PM, Camden.N.J | JUN 12 | 6 AM | ? | REC'D. [back]

2. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

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

4. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. 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]


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