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Walt Whitman to John Burroughs and Richard Maurice Bucke, 19 July 1889


Pretty fair with me personally to-day—warm spell over two weeks but I keep up amid it (but every week or month a button or peg gives out—most of the time mildly—but I realize it well enough—my sight & hearing are quite markedly dulling)—warmth shaded a little to-day & cloudy any how—ate a rare egg & some Graham bread & coffee for my breakfast—eat two meals a day & moderate & plain, but relish them—sit here alone, as now, quiet & middling comfortable—rather an unfair night last (not common)—bladder botherations—bowel action this forenoon—I enclose Eldridge's2 rec'd to day, as you might like to know—Where & ab't Marvin3 I don't know—I will send you "Donnelly's4 Reviewers"5 right away6—I lent it to a friend & have just sent for it but could not get it this forenoon—Mrs: O'C7 is yet at Wash'n, but expects to break up soon I think—

Yr's rec'd & welcom'd as always—love to you & 'Sula8 & Julian9—I have a big book10 (my "complete works" in one Vol. rather cumbersome) for you, John—send these (both) to Dr Bucke—

Walt Whitman

The "Donnelly" booklet comes now & I send it to you same mail with this—

 loc.02028.001_large.jpg Dear Walt:—

You will see by the enclosed card that I have returned to the Internal Revenue service. I regretted to leave Los Angeles and the practice of law, but times got very hard there, and although I had some important cases and good fees in prospect I was unable to realize the cash proceeds; so I applied and got my present portion—same that I held before.—I hope to resume practice in the state, some time in the future, when I have paid my debts and saved a little money.—I am now a citizen of California and hope to always remain such. I should not be contented to settle down in the East, again, I think.—

The death of William O'Connor11 though long anticipated, was a great shock when the news came—What a wealth of intellectual enthusiasm and power was there extinguished, if it could be so: but I don't believe he or any of us can go out like a child's carlacue in the night.12 I have faith to believe that we shall all meet again on the other side of Jordan, & if we can only have such good times as we had of yore in Washington loc.02028.002_large.jpg I shall be content. My mother is still living in Boston at the age of 75, well and hearty. Thank God—I have not seen her for two years, and more.

I read with much emotion in the Philadelphia & Camden papers the account of your Seventieth Birthday dinner.13 I was especially touched by John Burroughs letter.—I am indebted to you for many papers—Always glad to get them.—Address me until further notice simply Internal Revenue Agent. San Francisco. Cal. I hope you are fairly comfortable.—God bless you my old and long tried friend—"With fond affection and recollection.

Ever yours Charles W. Eldridge

John Burroughs and Richard Maurice Bucke were two of Whitman's closest friends and admirers. Burroughs (1837–1921), a naturalist, met Whitman in Washington, D.C. in 1864 and became one of Whitman's most frequent correspondents. He would also go on to write several studies of Whitman. Bucke (1837–1902), a Canadian physician, was Whitman's first biographer, and would later become one of his medical advisors and literary executors. 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). For more on his relationship with Bucke, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice (1837–1902).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: John Burroughs | Hobart | New York. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jul 19 | 8 PM | 89. [back]
  • 2. Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903) was one half of the Boston-based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who issued the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. In December 1862, on his way to find his injured brother George in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Whitman stopped in Washington and encountered Eldridge, who had become a clerk in the office of the army paymaster, Major Lyman Hapgood. Eldridge helped Whitman gain employment in Hapgood's office. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge, see David Breckenridge Donlon, "Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Joseph B. Marvin, a friend and an admirer of Whitman's poetry, was from 1866 to 1867 the co-editor of the Radical. He was then appointed as a clerk in the Treasury Department in Washington, on behalf of which he took a trip to London in the late fall of 1875. On October 19, 1875, Whitman wrote a letter to William Michael Rossetti to announce a visit from Marvin. Rossetti gave a dinner for Marvin, which was attended by the following "good Whitmanites": Anne Gilchrist; Joseph Knight, editor of the London Sunday Times; Justin McCarthy, a novelist and writer for the London Daily News; Edmund Gosse; and Rossetti's father-in-law, Ford Madox Brown. [back]
  • 4. Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831–1901) was a politician and writer, well known for his notions of Atlantis as an antediluvian civilization and for his belief that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon, an idea he argued in his book The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, published in 1888. [back]
  • 5. In his pamphlet Mr. Donnelly's Reviewers (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1889), O'Connor attempted to defend Ignatius Donnelly's Baconian theories, as found in The Great Crytogram (1887). [back]
  • 6. On July 3, 1889, Mrs. O'Connor informed Whitman that she was sending him a copy of William's "last literary work," Mr. Donnelly's Reviewers. On August 27, Burroughs commented: "I read Williams pamphlet on Donnellys Reviewers with melancholy enjoyment. It is very brilliant & effective, quite equal to his best work I think. If he had only left out some of his mud-epithets, or if he had only not claimed Montaignes Essays & Burtons Melancholy for Bacon! How such a claim as that does discredit the whole business.... Wm was fated to slop over in just this way, & to steel his reader against him." [back]
  • 7. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. Julian Burroughs (1878–1954), the only son of John and Ursula Burroughs, later became a landscape painter, writer, and photographer. [back]
  • 10. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," was published by the poet himself—in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 11. 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]
  • 12. Eldridge is echoing Whitman's line in "Song of Myself"—"I know I shall not pass like a child's carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night." [back]
  • 13. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]
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