Skip to main content

John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 26 January 1884

 kal_ch.00002_large.jpg Dear Walt:

Do you know much about the half-profit system of publication? My publishers still stick to me for a book & say that if I am not content with the usual 10 per cent, they will publish on 1/2 profit basis. I don't know which is best, since the figuring is with them.

At the time I wrote kal_ch.00004_large.jpg you last I was summoned home to fathers death bed. He died Jany 9th from apoplexy, aged 81, lived about 36 hours after the stroke. He had said to me in the summer that he hoped to go in that way I know it is best it should be so, but I find it impossible to reason myself out of a sense of deepest loss. How desolate now does the old home look to me in the mids of the bleak winter land scape!

We are counting on going to Washington about middle of Feb. & hope to see you there kal_ch.00008_large.jpg or on our way. What do you say.

I am reading Carlyles "Frederick"1—the most wonderful history I ever opened. It seems to me to eclipse other histories as the electric light eclipses a tallow dip. I get so excited over the battles I can hardly hold the book.

I am looking much in Arnolds2 works too—a wonderfully clear, direct, sensitive, flexible mind—a writer who really has steady limpid currents of ideas—If he only had more heartiness & could get free of these slight collegiate contemptuousness & aloofness. kal_ch.00007_large.jpg I am going to wrestle with him one of these days & see just what I make of him. Thanks for the papers you send. Your Indian sketch is again superb.3

Cold here, with the river whooping at night like a colossal Indian, or is it more like the explosions of flatulency?

With much love. Drop me a line. 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).


  • 1. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. He wrote frequently on the conflict between scientific changes and the traditional social (often religious) order. His History of Friedrich II of Prussia, called Frederick the Great was published in 1858. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985). For Whitman's writings on Carlyle, see "Death of Thomas Carlyle" (pp. 168–170) and "Carlyle from American Points of View" (170–178) in Specimen Days (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1882). [back]
  • 2. The English poet and critic Matthew Arnold (1822–1888) was in America for a lecture tour from October 1883 to March 1884. Burroughs had gone to hear Arnold speak in New York on January 4, 1884 (see Burroughs's letter to Whitman of January 8, 1884). [back]
  • 3. "Reminiscences of the Indian Bureau" (later retitled "An Indian Bureau Reminiscence") was published in the February 1884 issue of Baldwin's Monthly. [back]
Back to top