Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 2 November 1880

Date: November 2, 1880

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00459

Source: The Walt Whitman Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin. 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, "CA=," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Sara Duke and Nicole Gray

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Esopus N.Y.
Nov 2d 1880

Dear Walt:

I was glad to get your card & to hear that your health was improved. I thought surely we should see you as you returned from Canada in Sept. I had made great reckoning of a long visit with you. We have all been well. I send you a late picture of Julian, but it does not flatter him. He talks everything I showed him your picture in Scribner, & asked him who it was. "It is uncle Alt" he said. I think that picture a good one, better than the photo from which it was taken. Stedman was here in June & I let him have two or three pictures to choose from. He said he had had a big fight with Holland, but had conquered, Holland would have neither piece nor picture. I am satisfied with the essay. It is better than I expected It is my philosophy always to accept the good & let the bad go to the dogs. The good in the essay will help us; the bad no body will heed It will bring you readers & friends & that is enough. The article is candid & respectful & that is all we can ask. This is a free country & Stedman can think & say what he pleases, so long as he keeps within the bounds of legitimate criticism. His argument is very weak in places, notably on the procreation business. To compare sex & what goes with it, to mud & slime that nature covers up, is a fatal error. In fact it seems to me that the adverse criticisms in the paper are all weak & ineffectual, & that he is truly at home only when he is appreciative. How gingerly he does walk at times to be sure, as if he feared the ground underfoot was mined. He wrote a propitiatory letter to both me & O'Connor, before the article appeared. He evidently had a wholesome dread of O'Connor's war whoop & scalping knife. But S. is a generous fellow, think how much better he is than the set to which he belongs. A young man from Cambridge Mass. (W.S. Kennedy) writes me that he had a furious talk with Stedman about the article, & that he himself has written a paper that will appear in the Californian soon, which he thinks does you fuller justice. I do not know him, but he says he expects to go to Phila. soon to work on the American, a news paper started there. He says his paper was accepted by the International, & then returned on account of Mr Lodge, one of the editors. Dr Bucke is a good fellow, but between me & you, I am a little shy of him; I fear he lacks balance & proportion & that his book will not be pitched in the right key. But I hope I do him injustice.

It is a lovely day here & I am in a mood to bet that Garfield will carry every Northern State. When this reaches you you will know whether I would have lost or won. Write to me.

Love from us all
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 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).


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