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Walt Whitman to John Burroughs 30 April [1873]

 loc.01121.003_large.jpg Dear John Burroughs,

I rec'd​ your letter,2 & was glad to hear from you—I am still in a pretty bad way3—I am writing this over at the office, at my desk, but feel to-day more like laying down than sitting up—I do not walk any better, & my head has frequent distress—Still, for all that I slowly gain strength—very slowly—& shall yet get well as ever—Every thing goes on about the same, in the sphere of my affairs, &c. as when I last saw you—Mother4 is at Camden—mopes & worries a good deal about me—I don't feel like leaving here, for visiting or any purpose, until I get so I can move about—The  loc.01121.004_large.jpg doctor is applying electricity, every other day—I have had it now five or six times—I anticipate benefit in a while, but it makes no perceptible difference yet—How and where is 'Sula?5—I wish I was where I could come in & see her & you often—(those nice breakfasts were bright spots, & I shall not forget them)—if I could just get 'round and sit an hour or so for a change, & chat with 'Sula and you, two or three times a week, I believe it would do me good—but I must take it out in imagination—for it is impossible in reality—

—I got a long letter from Dowden6—he mentions you7—As I sit I look over from my office window on the President's grounds—the grass is green enough—they have already been over it once with the cutter, & Saturday there were men out there in their shirt-sleeves raking it up—I have a big bunch of lilacs in a pitcher in my room—

—Washington looks about the same—rather cool & cloudy to-day—but pleasant weather may-be by the time you receive this—best love to you & 'Sula

Walt Whitman  loc.01121.001_large.jpg  loc.01121.002_large.jpg

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 is addressed: John Burroughs, | Examiner Waukill Bank. | Middletown | New York. It is postmarked: WASHINGTON | APR | 29 | [illegible]. [back]
  • 2. Whitman is likely referring to his letter from Burroughs of April 11, 1873. [back]
  • 3. In January 1873, Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke that made walking difficult. He first reported it in his January 26, 1873, letter to his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873), and continued to provide regular notes on his condition. By mid-March Whitman was taking brief walks out to the street and began to hope that he could resume work in the office. See also his March 21, 1873, letter to his mother. [back]
  • 4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. Ursula North Burroughs (1836–1917) was John Burroughs's wife. Ursula and John were married on September 12, 1857. The couple maintained a small farm overlooking the Hudson River in West Park, Ulster County. They adopted a son, Julian, at two months of age. It was only later revealed that John himself was the biological father of Julian. [back]
  • 6. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors. . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888, Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888, 299). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. See Edward Dowden's letter to Whitman of April 12, 1873. [back]
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