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John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 17 May 1874

Dear Walt:

I recdreceived​ a magazine (the Galaxy)1 from you yesterday, which I have been peeping in a little to day, but the day has been so beautiful & the charm of the open air so great that I could not long keep my eyes on the printed page. The season is at last fairly in for it, and the fruit trees are all getting in bloom. My bees are working like beavers & there is a stream of golden thighs pouring into the hive all the time. I can do almost anything with them & they wont sting me. Yesterday I turned a hive up & pruned it, that is cut out a lot of old dirty comb; the little fellows were badly frightened & came pouring out, in great consternation, but did not offer to sting me. I am  loc.01124.002_large.jpg This page only going to transfer a swarm in a day or two to a new style of hive. I spend all my time at work about the place & like it much. I run over to W. to look after bank matters for a day or two then back here. The house is being plastered & will be finished during the summer. The wrens & robins & phoebe birds have already taken possession of various nooks of it, & if they are allowed to go on with their building I must stop mine. During that snow storm the last of april the Hermit thrush took refuge in it. We are surrounded with birds here & they are a great comfort & delight to me.

Your room is ready for you & your breakfast plate warmed. When will you come? I know the change would do you good & your presence would certainly do us good. We are counting on your coming & do not disappoint us. I will meet you in N.Y. if you will tell me when. Let us hear from you soon. Ursula2 sends love.

As Ever 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. William Conant Church (1836–1917) established the Galaxy in 1866 with his brother Francis Pharcellus Church (1839–1906). Financial control of the Galaxy passed to Sheldon & Company in 1868, and it was absorbed by the Atlantic Monthly in 1878. For a time, the Churches considered Whitman a regular contributor, printing two of his essays that later made up a significant portion of Democratic Vistas (1871) and several of his poems, including" A Carol of Harvest for 1867," "Brother of All, With Generous Hand," "Warble for Lilac-Time," and "O Star of France." For more on Whitman's relationship with the Galaxy, see Susan Belasco, "Whitman's Poems in Periodicals—The Galaxy." [back]
  • 2. 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]
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