Skip to main content

John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 17 December 1889

 loc.01174.001_large.jpg Dear Walt;

I was very glad to see that you was able to get down stairs to your thanksgiving dinner, & I trust you will be able to get down to your Christmas dinner, & to do full justice to it. We are dwellers in this town again this winter. Wife hired rooms here 1st of Nov, & went to housekeeping. I clung to the farm & lived alone with my dog, coming down here Sundays & stormy weather. Now the snow has come I  loc.01174.002_large.jpg shall probably be here most of the time. I am pretty well, but a good deal troubled. The old farm where I was born has come back upon my hands & is very embarrassing. I tried to help my brother through with it, but he has proved unequal to the task & I have had to take it to secure myself from heavy loss. But I shall lose 8 or 9 hundred dollars in any event & may be much more, I go out there again this afternoon. Julian1 goes to school & is well, Mrs. B.2 is pretty well.

I had some correspondence this fall with a daughter of Chas. loc.01174.003_large.jpg Kingsley.3 She wrote me for a copy of your poems. She is greatly taken with them, but says there are things in them that make her gasp. Her mother, a lady of 80 is very enthusiastic over them. She seems to be one of the best readers you ever had.

I suppose a great poet has passed away in Browning.4 It is curious that I can make nothing of him. His manner always repells me & his matter is not interesting. I trust you keep well as usual & that I shall hear from you soon

With love John Burroughs  loc.01174.004_large.jpg

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. Julian Burroughs (1878–1954), the only son of John and Ursula Burroughs, later became a landscape painter, writer, and photographer. [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. Charles Kingsley (1819–1875) was a novelist, a Church of England clergyman, and a controversialist. [back]
  • 4. The English poet Robert Browning (1812–1889), known for his dramatic monologues, including "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess," was also the husband of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861). [back]
Back to top