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John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 27 July 1875

 loc.01125.001_large.jpg Dear Walt:

I enclose the letter1 I recd​ from Dowden,2 which you may return to me when you write. I recd received​ both your postal cards.3 I cant​ help but think if you had got away from Camden this summer you would have been much better, no matter how much of an effort it cost you to make the start. I happened to get Saturdays Tribune & saw the letter about you from the Springfield Repn Republican​ . It is an admirable piece of writing (of course I see your hand)  loc.01125.002_large.jpg  loc.01125.003_large.jpg & contains some of the best things about you that have yet been in print. I am rejoiced that you are as well as this indicates. I do not like the title of the new book as well as the one you proposed last spring—namely "Songs & pieces Leftover" This sounds like you, the other does not. We have had a very dry season here till just now. My berry crop & other crops were much injured.

I recdreceivedDowdens​ Shakspeare​ book4 & have read several of the Chapters. For some reason it does not strike me. It does not very differ much from the rest of the critical literature of that subject. I do not yet see that it throws any new light.  loc.01125.004_large.jpg  loc.01125.005_large.jpg His Victor Hugo5 article, strikes me as much more masterly.

Have you ever heard of this new medical idea called the "Compound oxygen Treatment"? by Dr. Starkey6 of Phila.​ ? I would strongly urge you to try it. Our attention has been called to it by Mrs Johns7 of WashnWashington​ She was threatened with some serious lung difficulty & was treated by Starkey who was then in W.​ He helped or Cured her lung trouble & his oxygen so vivified & re-kindled her vital energies that she got with child forth with—after being married 9 years. I think I shall send my wife down there this winter; in the mean time I wish you would look into it. It looks as if oxygen  loc.01125.006_large.jpg ought to work wonders, if it can be rightly taken.

I have a boat now rigged with a sail, & would take you out every day if you was here. Rab8 & I are getting to be pretty good old Salts. 'Sula'9 sends love. I hope you will be in the mood to write me soon.

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. This enclosure has not been located. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. These letters have not been located. [back]
  • 4. Probably Edward Dowden's Shakespere: a Critical Study of his Mind and Art (1875). [back]
  • 5. Victor Hugo (1802–1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist best known for Les Misérables (1862) and Notre-Dame de Paris (1833). [back]
  • 6. Dr. George R. Starkey's "compound oxygen treatment" was based on the premise that since oxygen sustains life, it could also restore health following illness or disease. See George R. Starkey, The Compound Oxygen Treatment, Its Mode of Action and Results (Philadelphia, Pa: Starkey & Palen, 1881). [back]
  • 7. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 8. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 9. Ursula North (1836–1917) married John Burroughs in 1857 and became a friend to Walt Whitman, a frequent guest in the Burroughs household. When issues of sexual incompatibility arose in the Burroughs marriage, Whitman sided with Ursula against John's sexual "wantonness" and eventual infidelity. While John Burroughs traveled a great deal due to his job as a bank examiner, Ursula and Whitman visited frequently, with Ursula visiting the poet after his stroke in 1873. For more on Whitman's relationship with the Burroughs family, 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). [back]
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