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Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 9 September [1873]

 loc.01123.001_large.jpg Dear John Burroughs,

Your letter of 6th1 came duly,—with the plans & photo., which I return herewith—John the questions you ask cannot judiciously be answered, except as they involve the whole house, ground, purposes, materials, &c. &c. And in reference to & connection with, twenty different matters besides themselves.2 My brother3 & I are  loc.01123.002_large.jpg pleased with your plan, in general—my brother favors the ground story of stone,—but the 1½ superstructure of wood, (says it is healthier & drier)—But I have no doubt at all that you will cipher out the sum yourself, & the result will be something cosy & natural.—I am not very well to-day4—but am up & have been out—am generally about the same as noted in my last.5

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. Burroughs had been preparing to build a home in the Catskill Mountains. He purchased a nine-acre plot of land with a view of the Hudson River in September of 1873. He constructed the home himself, and it came to be known as "Riverby." In a letter to Whitman of May 14, 1873, Burroughs envisioned Riverby as a place the friends could reunite after Whitman's health improved: "I look forward to many delightful days with you yet, after I have built me another nest up here by the Hudson You will come and spend weeks & months with us & we will all be happy again." For more information, see Carmen Sarracino, "Riverby," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. 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 over a decade 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]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Whitman referenced the progression of his health in his September 2, 1873, letter to Burroughs, stating: "I still live in hopes—& expect to be helped by the fall weather, & even by the winter." [back]
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