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John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 14 May 1873

 syr.00001.001_large.jpg see notes March 8 1889 BURROUGHS Dear Walt,

I received your letter,1 & the papers you so kindly sent me, both very welcome. The sight of the Washington papers forthwith induces a fit of homesickness on poor 'Suly2 who seems to pine for the place & our old home there more than I do. I have got somewhat wonted here, & then I am busy & have many things to interest me, & she has little or nothing. Then the home in W.​ was of course more to her than to me; her time was all passed there & only a part of mine. Still at times my thoughts will go back & hover & nestle about the little home & the many familiar places. I expect it will be a good while before Either of  syr.00001.002_large.jpg us are weaned from W.​ I am about to sell the place. The bargain can be closed whenever I come on which will be by Sunday I think. Then we will be quite homeless again & I expect the wife will be unhappy enough. I hope to be in W.​ on Sunday evening, or Monday morning. I was grieved dear Walt that you was still confined to W.​ & not able to go home; but your faith in your ultimate entire recovery is cheering.3 I hope it may be more speedy. I look forward to many delightful days with you yet, after I have built me another nest up here by the Hudson You will come and spend weeks & months with us & we will all be happy again.4 The spring is backward here; no lilacs yet & no signs of any. But the grass, the good green grass, is wonderful. It seems as if I never saw it so perfect before. This you know is a great grazing & butter country,  syr.00001.003_large.jpg & the fields & the spread of farms around are delightful to behold. They have something of the smooth, mellow, well kept look of the English fields, while their freshness & tenderness are marvelous. I graze in them with my eyes daily. Grass like this is never seen so far south on the Potomac. Yesterday I made a trip to Sugar loaf Mountain5 15 miles below here, & could see over nearly the whole county from its summit, & could see the Catskills 50 miles to the North, & peaks that I recognized as visible from my parents​ home in Delaware Co​ . But the rolling succession of green fields was the most wonderful.

I have plenty of time on my hands now, but do not seem able to turn it to any account in a literary way. I am like a cow that has lost her "cud." I can't get back my ruminating habit. If I could only begin once more I think there are several pieces I could write. I have  syr.00001.004_large.jpg seen my father make an artificial cud for a cow, but I know of no receipt by which I can compound an intellectual one for myself. The first of my bird pieces with Scribner6 will not be out till July; when "The Birds of the Poets" will be out I have not heard.7

I take the "Tribune"8 so had seen the letter about Emerson.9 I am glad the old fellow is having a good time. Conway10 is no doubt happy.

Wife sends much love. Hoping to see you in a few days I am

Ever Your Friend 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. See Whitman's letter to John Burroughs of April 30, 1873. [back]
  • 2. Ursula North (1836–1917) married John Burroughs in 1857 and became a friend to Walt Whitman, a frequent guest in the Burroughs household. When issues of sexual incompatibility arose in the Burroughs marriage, Whitman sided with Ursula against John's sexual "wantonness" and eventual infidelity. While John Burroughs traveled a great deal due to his job as a bank examiner, Ursula and Whitman visited frequently, with Ursula visiting the poet after his stroke in 1873. For more on Whitman's relationship with the Burroughs family, 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). [back]
  • 3. In January 1873, Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke that made walking difficult. He first reported it in his January 26, 1873, letter to his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873), and continued to provide regular notes on his condition. By mid-March Whitman was taking brief walks out to the street and began to hope that he could resume work in the office. See also his March 21, 1873, letter to his mother. [back]
  • 4. Burroughs had been preparing to build a home in the Catskill Mountains. Purchasing a nine-acre plot of land with a view of the Hudson River in September of 1873, the home would be known as "Riverby." [back]
  • 5. Sugarloaf Mountain, the only mountain in the Washington, D.C. area, is a small mountain just over 1000 feet. [back]
  • 6. John Burroughs wrote at least two essays about birds published in Scribner's Monthly in 1873; his "Birds of the Poets" came out in the September edition that year. [back]
  • 7. Burroughs is referring to "The Birds of the Poets," Scribner's Monthly 6 (1873), 565–574, in which he quoted at length from "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." [back]
  • 8. The "Tribune" here mentioned is probably the New York Daily Tribune, with which Walt Whitman was in frequent contact about his poems and reviews of his poems. For more on Whitman's relationship with the Daily Tribune, see Susan Belasco, The New York Daily Tribune. [back]
  • 9. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was an American poet and essayist who began the Transcendentalist movement with his 1836 essay Nature. For more on Emerson, see Jerome Loving, "Emerson, Ralph Waldo [1809–1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. Moncure Daniel Conway (1832–1907) was an American abolitionist, minister, and frequent correspondent with Walt Whitman. Conway often acted as Whitman's agent and occasional public relations man in England. For more on Conway, see Philip W. Leon, "Conway, Moncure Daniel (1832–1907)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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