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John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 28 June 1886

 loc.01155.001_large.jpg Dear Walt;

We returned from our wanderings last week. On the whole had a fairly good time. I had a good glimpse of a large section of the country. I spent 10 days in Washington, then went to Ky. where I stayed till 1st of June, & joined wife2 & Julian3 in Chicago June 5th. I found Wm O'Connor4 better than I expected to; his mind  loc.01155.002_large.jpg seems clear & strong, & his lameness not very bad. But there is probably little chance of his ever being any better. A sea voyage is the thing for him, but he will not go. He has probably got that horrible disease called progressive locomotor ataxia I saw him several times at his office. He felt a little insecure in his place, but I don't believe he will be disturbed. Washington was very beautiful & I was glad to be there again. My sleep was very poor while in Ky, but I think of it as the finest country I have yet seen—that is the blue grass  loc.01155.003_large.jpg region of it; much ahead of anything I saw in Ill. or Ind. or Ohio. I went to St Louis, & sailed from there up to Quincy on the Missippi. I was ten days in Chicago, the N.Y. of the west, & destined to be an enormous city. We stopped at Cleveland with friends, then at Niagara & at Utica. Julian saw many wonders & got many ideas. I am very glad to be home again. It is getting to be a great bore for me to gad about to see things. I hope you are better than when I saw you. You should make a determined attempt to keep your bowells open.  loc.01155.004_large.jpg It makes me shudder when I remember what you said about their torpidity. I could not live a month so. Your head would be all right if you could keep your bowells open. Frank Baker5 said that an outward movement, such as chafing & kneeding of them by the hands would be a great help. Why can you not have your boy do that for 1/2 hour each day, also drink a good deal of water. Hathern​ Spring water6 from Saratoga would be good. Also a wet towel over the liver. Drop me a line how you are, & if you have any plan to get away from C. for the summer.

With love J Burroughs  loc.01155.005_large.jpg  loc.01155.006_large.jpg 1886 1885

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: Walt Whitman | Camden. | 328 Mickle St. | N. J. This letter is postmarked: WEST PARK | JUN | 28 | 1886; CAMDEN. N. J. | JUN | 29 | 1 PM | 1886 | REC'D. Mary Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, may have written the following note on the back of the envelope: "have gone out with Horace will be home soon—say 10 AM | Mary." [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]
  • 3. Julian Burroughs (1878–1954), the only son of John and Ursula Burroughs, later became a landscape painter, writer, and photographer. [back]
  • 4. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. Frank Baker (1841–1918) was a physician, clerk, and professor who later became the superintendent of the National Zoo in Washington D.C. He had met Whitman and Burroughs in the capital in the 1860s. [back]
  • 6. Burroughs means "Hathorn Spring water"; the Hathorn springs were some of the numerous mineral springs in Saratoga Springs, New York, that drew guests like the Vanderbilts and J. P. Morgan, who traveled there for various water cures. [back]
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