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John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 17 February 1891

 loc.01178.003_large.jpg Dear Walt

I was very glad to get your card,2 but sorry to hear you are under the weather. I trust the spring which is now near will set you up again. I keep pretty well, as do wife3 & Julian.4 We have been here all winter. I have been busy with my pen, turning out  loc.01178.004_large.jpg pot-boilers, nothing else I shall keep an eye out for your N.A. article.5 I see it in the reading rooms in Po'keepsie.​ I have been sending some things to the Independent & to the Christian Union at the request of the editors. It is surprising how much heresy these papers can stand. I think they secretly like it. I see nothing in the literary horizon, no coming poet or philosopher My opinion is that life is  loc.01178.005_large.jpg becoming pretty thin. Our civilization runs all to head & crudeness, no character, no heart in anything now adays​ Most of the magazine poetry is utterly barren. It is like poor mortar—too much sand for the lime.

I am in a hurry to see spring. I want to taste the earth again. The ground here has been deeply covered since early in Dec. Rain & fog to-day.

With much love John Burroughs  loc.01178.006_large.jpg  loc.01178.001_large.jpg see notes | Feb. 18, '91  loc.01178.002_zs.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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden | N.J. It is postmarked: West Park | Feb | 17 | 1891 | N.Y.; Camden, N.J. | Feb | 18 | 12 M | 1891 | [illegible]. [back]
  • 2. This letter may not survive. [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. Julian Burroughs (1878–1954), the only son of John and Ursula Burroughs, later became a landscape painter, writer, and photographer. [back]
  • 5. On October 3, 1890, Whitman had accepted an invitation to write for The North American Review. He sent them "Old Poets," the first of a two-part prose contribution, on October 9. "Old Poets" was published in the November 1890 issue of the magazine, and Whitman's "Have We a National Literature?" was published in the March 1891 issue. [back]
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