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John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 11 May 1889

 loc.01167.001_large.jpg Dear Walt:

Yesterday on my way up to Olive to see my wife's father, who is near the end of his life's journey, I read in the Tribune of the death of Wm O'Connor.1 I​ was news I had been expecting for some time, yet it was a stunning blow for all that I know how keenly you must feel it, & you have  loc.01167.002_large.jpg my deepest sympathy. No words come to my pen adequate to express the sense of the loss we have we suffered in the death of that chivalrous & eloquent soul. How strange that his life has all passed, that I shall see or hear him no more.

And it is sad to me to think that he has left behind him no work or book that at all expresses the measure of his great powers. What loc.01167.003_large.jpg a gift of speech that man had! If you can tell me anything about his last days I shall be very glad to hear it. Also where he is buried.

I am pretty well, & have been immersed in farm work for the past six weeks. We have rented our house to a New York man for 5 months. Julian2 & I live in the old house with a man who works for me, & Ursula3 boards in Po'Keepsie. I hope this great heat for loc.01167.004_large.jpg the past few days has not prostrated you. Tell Harry Trauble​ 4 to write to me.

The wave of orchard bloom has just passed over us & the world has been very lovely. Drop me a line my dear friend if you are able to do so.

With the old love 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 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]
  • 2. Julian Burroughs (1878–1954), the only son of John and Ursula Burroughs, later became a landscape painter, writer, and photographer. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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