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Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 20 April [1886]

Your book has come so nice and fresh like a new pot-cheese in a clean napkin—I have read the first piece—"Look Out"1—all through and thought it fully equal to anything in the past, and looked over the rest of the pages—doesn't seem to me to deserve the depreciatory tone in which you speak of it.

Dr. Bucke went to England April 14—I rec'd a letter from Wm. O'C[onnor], and his little book.2

I am much the same as of late—made out very handsomely with my lecture April 15th—$674—have seen Gilder3—Early summer here—I have a new horse—very good—

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. The title of the first chapter in Signs and Seasons is "A Sharp Lookout." In sending the book to Whitman on April 3, Burroughs commented: "I do not think much of it—the poorest of my books, I think." [back]
  • 2. Hamlet's Note-book; Whitman admitted to Traubel, "I have never read it myself" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, July 15, 1888). [back]
  • 3. Richard Watson Gilder attended the lecture; see the footnote in the letter from Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy of April 17, 1886. [back]
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