Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 12–13 July 1888

Date: July 12–13, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: med.00852

Source: The location of this manuscript is unknown. Edwin Haviland Miller derives his transcription from a transcript of the letter published in Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931), 280–281. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:185–186. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Alex Ashland, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
July 12 '88
Thursday night after 9

It gets very tedious here—(I have now been in my room and bed five weeks)—I am sitting up in a rocker and get along better than you would think—I think upon the whole I am getting mending—slowly and faintly enough yet sort o' perceptibly—the trouble is sore and broken brain—the old nag gives out and it hurts to even go or draw at all—but there are some signs the last two days that slight ambles will justify themselves—even for old habit, if nothing else—

It was probably the sixth or seventh whack of my war paralysis, and a pretty severe one—the doctors looked glum—Bucke1 I think saved my life as he happened to be here—Shimmering, fluctuating since, probably gathering, recruiting, but as I now write I shall rally or partially rally—only every time lets me down a peg—I hear from you by Horace Traubel2—I have an idea that O'Connor3 is a little better.4

A rainy evening here, not at all hot, quiet—

Friday July 13—Just after noon—Ab't the same. I am sitting up, had a fair night—rose late, have eaten my breakfast—have rec'd a good letter from O'C—nothing very special or new—fine, clear, cool. Today my head thicks somewhat today. Love to you, dear friend. Love and remembrance to 'Sula,5 to July,6 too. I am on to 90th page Nov. Boughs7—it will only make 20 more.


Walt Whitman


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. 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]

2. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. 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]

4. Traubel's letters to Burroughs are published in Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931), 277–280. On July 12, 1888, Burroughs tried to reconcile himself in his journal to the possibility of Whitman's death: "How life will seem to me with Whitman gone, I cannot imagine. He is my larger, greater, earlier self. No man alive seems quite so near to me" (280). [back]

5. 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]

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

7. 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]


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