Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to John and Ursula Burroughs, 2 March [1875]

Dear John, & 'Sula,

This will show you that "the lamp still holds out to burn"—though I have had a bad two months past—I have had another paralytic stroke,2 but it passed over, without any thing serious, (it is probable I have had several slight strokes)—but I am feeling, as I write, about the same as is now usual for me—still entertain expectations—

If practicable I shall bring out a Vol. the coming summer—I hope to pay you the visit yet—Did you get the paper I sent with a report of Emerson's late lecture on Eloquence—of course interesting, from him, but nothing very stunning, it seemed to me—I see that Conway is coming to America next autumn certain, to see things, travel, lecture, &c—3

John, [I] send you the last letter from a quondam correspondent & unseen rebel friend of mine, away down in Alabama4—He seems to me a good affectionate fellow, a sort of uncut gem—I have had five or six letters from him, all primitive but good—What are you about?—& how are you & 'Sula getting along?

Walt Whitman

My brother & sister well—brother full of business—


  • 1. That this letter was written in 1875 is confirmed by the succeeding notes. In addition, as indicated in Whitman's February 24, 1875 letter to William J. Linton, Whitman had begun plans for a new edition of his works. [back]
  • 2. Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke on February 16, 1875. In Whitman's February 19, 1875, letter to Peter Doyle—one of Whitman's closest comrades and companions—Whitman explained that the stroke affected the "right side" but was "not severe." [back]
  • 3. Moncure D. Conway arrived in America in September 1875; in his September 14, 1875 letter to William J. Linton, Whitman mentioned that Conway had "just arr'd here from England." [back]
  • 4. At the time Whitman wrote to Burroughs he had received, as he said, six letters from the colorful and eccentric John Newton Johnson, a self-styled philosopher from rural Alabama. There are about thirty letters from Johnson in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., but unfortunately there are no replies extant, although Whitman wrote frequently for a period of approximately fifteen years. When Johnson wrote for the first time on September 13, 1874, he was forty-two, "gray as a rat," a former Rebel soldier with an income between $300 and $400 annually, though before the war he had been "a youthful 'patriarch.'" He informed Whitman that during the past summer he had bought Leaves of Grass and after a momentary suspicion that the bookseller should be "hung for swindling," he discovered the mystery of Whitman's verse, and "I assure you I was soon 'cavorting' round and asserting that the $3 book was worth $50 if it could not be replaced. (Now Laugh)." He offered either to sell Whitman's poetry and turn over to him all profits or to lend him money. In the letter he enclosed a gold dollar: "So much grand poetry nearly kills me with the pain of delight." Characteristically, he concluded his letter with an unexpected question: "Walt! Are you Orthodox or Universalist? I am Materialist of late." On October 7, 1874, after describing Guntersville, Alabama, he commented: "Orthodoxy flourishes with the usual lack of flowers or fruit." His amusingly detailed description of his face on November 7, 1875, Whitman marked in red crayon. Thus Johnson became a self-designated philosophical jester to amuse Whitman. See also Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: R. G. Badger, 1915), 125–130. [back]
Back to top