Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 12 April 1887

Date: April 12, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: yal.00238

Source: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. 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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Ryan Furlong, Stefan Schöberlein, Kevin McMullen, Stephanie Blalock, Marie Ernster, Paige Wilkinson, and Amanda J. Axley

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April 12 '87 A M

Dear friend

Yours of yesterday rec'd this morning1—I shall leave here in the 4:30 P M Camden via Trenton to NY train to–morrow, Wednesday, & expect to be in Jersey City by or before 7, early evening—A friend, R. Pearsall Smith2 is convoying me, & I understand I am to go with him to the Westminster Hotel, for the night—Yes, meet me in Jersey City—I shall expect you:—the young man Wm Duckett3 is coming on with me—I am feeling better than for the last two weeks, & shall go through with the lecture, according to announcement4—I am to have, (according to wish & arrangement of Mr Smith) a reception at Westminster Hotel, Thursday evening—returning here Friday—

Best love & thanks—
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. This letter has not been located. [back]

2. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. William H. Duckett (1869–1902?) was Whitman's young Camden friend, who drove the poet's horse and buggy, lived for a while in Whitman's house, and accompanied Whitman on numerous trips. Duckett later established a career in the telegraphy industry; he lived and worked in Ohio and North Carolina before passing away in his native Philadelphia as a result of alcoholism in about 1902. For more information on Duckett, see Stephanie M. Blalock and Brandon James O'Neil, "'I am more interested than you know, Bill,': The Life and Times of William Henry Duckett, Jr.," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 39.2-3 (2022), 89–117. [back]

4. The Lincoln lecture was a tremendous success, and Whitman was so showered with adulation that he observed in his Commonplace Book, "If I had staid longer, I sh'd have been killed with kindness & compliments." The arrangements for the lecture were made by John H. Johnston; see his letter to Whitman on March 24. The poet stayed at the Westminster Hotel in a suite once occupied by the British novelist Charles Dickens. On April 13, Whitman was visited in the suite by friends, including Johnston, Burroughs, the writer Edmund Clarence Steadman, and the editor Richard Watson Gilder. At the Madison-Square Theatre on the following day, he was escorted on stage by Duckett and gave his lecture before an audience that included the poet James Russell Lowell, the statesman John Hay, the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and the industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. After his speech he received "two or more hundred friends" at the Hotel, appearing a "little fatigued," according to the New York Evening Sun. On the following day, he sat for G. C. Cox, the photographer, and Dora Wheeler, "portrait painter" (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 264–265). A lengthy notice appeared in the New York Times on April 15. For this lecture, Whitman received $600, $250 from the sale of tickets and $350 from Carnegie. For more on Whitman's Lincoln lecture, see Larry D. Griffin, "'Death of Abraham Lincoln,'" Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 169–170. [back]


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