Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 17 June [1876]

Date: June 17, 1876

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 3:50–51. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Papers of Walt Whitman (MSS 3829), Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, Albert H. Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia

Whitman Archive ID: uva.00370

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Ashley Lawson, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

Saturday afternoon
June 171

John, I have just been reading your Galaxy article,2 seated by the open window front room in my shirt sleeves, & must write a word about it—Your late pieces show marked vitality—vivacity (struggling, almost chafing, underneath a continent, respectable form or exterior) & this is the best of them—has those peculiarities, not without one or two foibles, but the whole of the piece is glorious—leaves the impression now upon me (after two readings) of the noblest piece of criticism on these things yet in America—as much nobler than the superb Emersonian pages on those subjects as lines & opinions with the blood of life & throb of hot conviction in them, are nobler than the superbest Marble–statue lines

It would be possible that I might be swayed into a warm feeling about the piece by the magnificent & very 'cute page about me,3 but as it happens by accident I had look'd over & read the piece in parts, accidentally omitting at first the entire lines in the second column of the page about me (which finally please me best)—& had made up my mind very decidedly as aforesaid—then when I did read them, you can imagine they didn't hurt me much—nor my estimation of the piece—4

I have much to write—or tell you—about my own concerns—things in England—here too—&c &c—have been waiting for the chance to write you fully ever since I got your kind generous note & present5—but it dont seem to occur—Physically I am not much different—get along about as well as usual these times—am now just going down to an old farm house & big family, down in Jersey at White Horse,6 to spend a couple of days—and it is now (4½ p m) while I am waiting for the hack to come & take me to the depot that I write this—

George7 and Lou8 are well—baby9 only pretty well—hot weather, & teething—(but behaves like a little hero)—expect my two nieces10 here next week from St Louis—Love to 'Sula11—Write soon—



1. This letter's envelope bears the address, "John Burroughs | Esopus-on-Hudson | Ulster Co | New York." It is postmarked: "Camden | Jun | 17 | N.J." [back]

2. Burroughs published "A Word or Two on Emerson" and "A Final Word on Emerson" in the Galaxy in February and April 1876. See also Whitman's April 1, 1875 letter to Burroughs. [back]

3. See the Galaxy, 21 (February 1876), 258–259. [back]

4. Of Walt Whitman's "overpraise," Burroughs remarked in 1907: "I think he must have had a glass of whisky, or some champagne, when he wrote that" (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 135). [back]

5. On May 10, 1876, Whitman noted receipt of $50 from Burroughs (Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

6. Walt Whitman did not record in his Commonplace Book any visits with the Staffords at this time (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

7. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). As a Civil War correspondent, Walt wrote warmly about George's service, such as in "Our Brooklyn Boys in the War" (January 5, 1863); "A Brooklyn Soldier, and a Noble One" (January 19, 1865); "Return of a Brooklyn Veteran" (March 12, 1865); and "Our Veterans Mustering Out" (August 5, 1865). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with partner Mr. Smith and later a mason named French. George also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. Walt and George lived together for several years in Camden, but when Walt decided not to move with George and his wife Louisa in 1884, a rift occurred that was ultimately not mended before Walt's 1892 death. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (d. 1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Walt's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. Their son, Walter Orr Whitman, was born in 1875 but died the following year. A second son was stillborn. [back]

9. Jessie Louisa Whitman was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson ("Jeff") and Martha ("Mattie") Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. Jessie and her sister Manahatta ("Hattie") were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]

10. Mannahatta and Jessie, Jeff's daughters, came from St. Louis to Camden in July and remained until October 25, 1876 (Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

11. Burroughs' wife, Ursula. [back]


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