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John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 30 October 1871

 syr.00006.001_large.jpg Dear Walt,

I send you by this mail the "Dark Blue" containing the second part of Noel's1 article.2 I think the illustration horrid. It makes you look like a sick monkey. I wonder Hennessy3 could draw such a charicature​ . From what Conway4 said I inferred he had seen it and approved of it. I shall tell him what I think about it. I do not think the article amounts to shucks either. Rossetti5 said Noel was very much engrossed with politics, and it is evident he is engrossed with something else than poetry to write such a mess!  syr.00006.002_large.jpg Of course the article helps, but after Dowdens​ 6 noble paper7 it seems ineffectual enough, though Conway seemed to think it the more feeling of the two.—I have not seen Conway or Rossetti since I came back from Paris. I shall see Rossetti again but I do not seem to care much about Conway. I doubt if I could ever fraternize with him. He does not impress me as an eminently sincere and loveable person. It may be very cruel for me to say so, but he seems to me like a kind of literary broker, ever on his make, though I have no complaint to make of his treatment of me & it may be if I knew him better I should like  syr_tb.00001.jpg him more. Rossetti I am drawn toward, and though my first impression of him was that he was a high flown literary cockney, yet I soon saw that it was of no moment and that he was a genuine good fellow. He praises Prof. Dowden whom he has met and says I will like him. I intend to go to Ireland if possible, though it looks doubtful now as Assistant Secretary Richardson8 has impressed me into his service here & proposes to retain me & my party a week or two later than we had contemplated staying. I am at work in the office or Branch of the Treasury Dept here with 4 or 5 other clerks and the beautiful October days are slipping by and I am not tramping about Stratford or up the mountains of Wales or into Ireland  syr.00006.004_large.jpg as I had promised myself I should be. I have seen enough of cities, & streets & art and pictures & museums to stand me all the rest of my days, and am in a hurry to set my face westward.9 I spent about a week in Paris & got enough of it. I presume I was a little surprised when I went from here, so that I did not relish Paris as I should have done had I come to it fresh. It is certainly a very beautiful city and very clean & tasteful. The ruins are in excellent taste & are the best behaved ruins I ever saw, and the Parisians are the best mannered people I ever saw. I think the waiters in the Hotels could give lessons to princes. They bring you fried eggs on a perfumed napkin, and the napkin on beautiful tissue paper & the whole on a china plate (my paper has got mixed up)  syr_tb.00002.jpg and one hardly knows whether to fall to & eat or to lift up his hands in admiration. Yet for all that I was not deeply impressed with Paris. The aspect of the streets is very monotonous. See one block & you have seen it all. It all seems to have been built the same day & planned by the same architect & the stone were unmistakably all dug from the same quarry. Hence it is not picturesque or quaint or homely like London or grand either: it is brilliant & correct. I was much disappointed in the French soldiers; they are certainly a very inferior looking lot of men; small & dirty & indifferent. I find this is the impression of all Americans I have talked with who have seen them.  syr.00006.006_large.jpg I believe there are but two more parties coming over with bonds. I hope you & William10 will be among them. I wrote quite a long letter to William which I hope he received. I have seen Carlyle11 as I told him, and liked him very much. I am sure you would like him & that he would like you. But I must close, dear Walt, hoping to be in W.​ ahead of the snow birds.

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. Roden Noel (1834–1894) was an English poet. Noel came from an aristocratic English family, and in his youth developed socialist sympathies. He was a close friend of the poet and influential critic Robert Buchanan, and it may have been through Buchanan that Noel first encountered Leaves of Grass in 1871 (the same year that he first wrote to Whitman). In 1871, Noel published an essay entitled "A Study of Walt Whitman" in The Dark Blue (Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1934], 147–149). [back]
  • 2. The Dark Blue was an Oxford magazine published from 1871 to 1873 by John Christian Freund. Though the magazine featured contributions from such figures as A. C. Swinburne, Edward Dowden, and William Michael Rossetti, Dark Blue folded, and Freund fled to the United States to escape creditors. The article in question—Roden Noel's "A Study of Walt Whitman: The Poet of Modern Democracy" (Dark Blue 2 [October 1871], 241–253)—spoke glowingly of Whitman, describing him as "tall, colossal, luxuriant, unpruned, like some giant tree in a primeval forest . . . He springs out of that vast American continent full-charged with all that is special and national in it" (242). [back]
  • 3. "Hennessy" may be a reference to the Irish-American artist William John Hennessy (1839–1917). The skilled wood engraver had notably been hired to illustrate the works of Tennyson, Longfellow, and Whittier. [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors. . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888, Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888, 299). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. The Westminster Review had been published in London at least since the 1820s. A favorable anonymous review in 1871 sent Whitman inquiring after its writer; Rossetti indicated it was Edward Dowden. (For this review, see "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman.") [back]
  • 8. William A. Richardson (1821–1896) served as assistant secretary of the Treasury under Secretary George S. Boutwell. President Grant promoted him to secretary after Boutwell retired. [back]
  • 9. Burroughs wrote to Walt Whitman from London on October 3–4, 1871, after he had visited St. Paul's, where he had a staggering revelation, not unlike Henry James's in a Parisian gallery: "I saw for the first time what power & imagination could be put in form & design—I felt for a moment what great genius was in this field.…I had to leave them & sit down.…My brain is too sensitive. I am not strong enough to confront these things all at once…It is like the grandest organ music put into form." Whitman wrote in the margin: "Splendid off hand letter from John Burroughs—? publish it." On October 8, 1871, William Michael Rossetti referred to a visit three days earlier from Burroughs: "I like his frank manly aspect & tone." Burroughs visited Dowden in November 1871; see Fragments from Old Letters, E. D. to E. D. W., 1869–1892 (1914), 16–17. [back]
  • 10. 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]
  • 11. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish writer who wrote frequently on the conflict between scientific changes and the traditional social (often religious) order. For Whitman's writings on Carlyle, see "Death of Thomas Carlyle" and "Carlyle from American Points of View" in Specimen Days (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), 168–170 and 170–178. [back]
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