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Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 27 March [1884]

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—I am getting well towards my usual (late year) state of health—have had a bad time ever since I saw you in Phila2—my own illness, confinement to the house (a chilly, stagnant lonesome three weeks)—sudden sickness & death, (hasty consumption) of a young fellow I was much attached to, a near neighbor, & now the flitting—I moved yesterday (above address) & shall remain here for the present3—it is half way nearer the ferry—write—


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 postal card is addressed: John Burroughs | Esopus-on-Hudson | New York. It is postmarked: Camden | Mar | 27 | 8 PM | 1884 | N.J.; P.O. | 3-28-84 | 4-1A | N.Y. [back]
  • 2. Apparently Whitman saw Burroughs shortly before he became ill on February 17. Burroughs was in Washington when O'Connor wrote to Whitman on February 22. [back]
  • 3. On March 27 Whitman wrote in his Commonplace Book: "Am writing this in my new premises in Mickle Street—slept here last night—the plumbers are here at work at gas & water fixings, & the carpenter—Mr and Mrs Lay" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). On April 3 he "paid $1750 cash for the premises 328 Mickle Street, Camden, to Rebecca Jane Hare, & took the deed, which I left at the Register's office to be recorded" (Whitman's Commonplace Book). Whitman had royalties from the Philadelphia editions amounting to $1250, and he borrowed $500 from George W. Childs (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, June 9, 1888). The bill of sale, in Whitman's hand, is in the Walt Whitman House at Camden: "Camden, March 19, 1884, Received Sixteen dollars from Mrs: Lay, the rent in advance for house in Mickle St.—It is understood that if Mr Whitman before the end of April buys the house, this $16 is to be deducted from the price $1800. | R Jennie Hare." | "I agree to sell Walt Whitman the premises 328 Mickle Street for Seventeen Hundred and Fifty Dollars cash instead of 1800 dollars. | R Jenne Hare." Howe's Camden City Directory for 1883 listed as the occupant at 328 Mickle Street Mrs. Ellen Hare, a dressmaker and a widow. No mention of "R Jennie" or "Rebecca Jane" appears in the directories in the 1880s. On March 23 Whitman handed his sister-in-law a "rough statement" of the sums paid to her for board from June, 1873, to March, 1884, a period of 560 weeks, during which time he was not in Camden for 143 weeks. The total paid was $1501—"ab't $3.60 a week for the time boarded" (Whitman's Commonplace Book). [back]
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