Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, [2 March 1890]

Date: [March 2, 1890]

Whitman Archive ID: med.00883

Source: The location of this manuscript is unknown. Miller's transcription is derived from a transcription of the letter that was published in Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931), 291–292. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:29. 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, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock


Yours came yesterday and welcomed.2 I am here yet and allowing for the wear and decay-change, the situation continues much the same. You know I am well on my 71st year—lame and almost helpless in locomotion—inertia like a heavy swathing ample dropping pall over me most of the time, but my thoughts and to some extent mental action ab't the same as ever (queer ain't it?)

I have had my daily mid-day massage (another just as I go to bed). Tho't of going out a little in my wheel chair3 but it is bitter cold today here and I shall not. I have just sent a half-page poem to Gilder,4 they have accepted, paid, proofed it, and I believe it will be out in May number.5

I have just had a drink of milk punch—am sitting at present in my two-story den in Mickle St, alone as usual, more buoyant than you might suppose

Walt Whitman

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. In her book Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (1931), Clara Barrus observes that this letter "came on Sunday afternoon, March 2"—a statement which may mean that Whitman wrote it on that day or that the letter reached Burroughs on Sunday afternoon. The former is more plausible. Burroughs' letter of February 27, 1890 reveals that he was still depressed, living separate most of the time from his wife, and nostalgic." On March 6, 1890, Richard Maurice Bucke was annoyed at Burroughs' tone. [back]

2. See Burroughs' letter of February 27, 1890[back]

3. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

4. Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) was the assistant editor of Scribner's Monthly from 1870 to 1881 and editor of its successor, The Century, from 1881 until his death. Whitman had met Gilder for the first time in 1877 at John H. Johnston's (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: New York University Press, 1955], 482). Whitman attended a reception and tea given by Gilder after William Cullen Bryant's funeral on June 14; see "A Poet's Recreation" in the New York Tribune, July 4, 1878. Whitman considered Gilder one of the "always sane men in the general madness" of "that New York art delirium" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 5, 1888). For more about Gilder, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Richard Watson (1844–1909)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Whitman's poem "A Twilight Song" was published in the May 1890 issue of Century[back]


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