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John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, 28 March 1889

 uka_vm.00002.jpg Dear Walt:

A paper from you last night reminds me that it is time I again reported myself. We are back home again & I am busy about my farm work. The spring is early, the robins are calling the old call about the place, the sparrows are singing the old songs, & nature seems as fresh & young as ever. My plough seems uka_vm.00003.jpg to find as much fat in the ribs of old mother Earth as ever it did & it looks just as sweet. I am very glad to be back again, & to get at some real work. On the 5th of March I went to NY. for a week; stayed with Gilder2 & then with Johnson3; had a pretty good time. Saw some of the small literary fry, dined with Gilder at the Fellowcraft Club of which he is president, met George Kennan4 of whom I think highly, met Mrs Custer5 & Mrs Cleveland6 uka_vm.00004.jpg both charming women. Charles DeKay7 is married & is stout & handsome.8 Gilder is very busy, goes out a good deal, but finds time to write some poetry still. He owns a house now in Clinton Place (8th st.) Walked down to City hall & was astonished to see the Times building towering up & quite overshadowing the Tribune building. Its architecture is fine & makes the spotted & clumsy character of the building of its rival look cheap enough.

I am to have a new book this Spring, a collection of "Indoor Essays," rather a uka_vm.00005.jpg piece of book-making business—not much worth.

I hope you are comfortable these spring days, & can nearly get a glimpse of the spring. I am well, but not very cheerful for some reason. Any news from O'Connor,9 or yourself will be very welcome.

With the old love John Burroughs  uka_vm.00012.jpg  uka_vm.00013.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: Westpark | Mar | [illegible] | 1889 | N.Y.; Camden N.J. | Mar | 29 | [illegible] PM | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) was the assistant editor of Scribner's Monthly from 1870 to 1881 and editor of its successor, The Century, from 1881 until his death. Whitman had met Gilder for the first time in 1877 at John H. Johnston's (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: New York University Press, 1955], 482). Whitman attended a reception and tea given by Gilder after William Cullen Bryant's funeral on June 14; see "A Poet's Recreation" in the New York Tribune, July 4, 1878. Whitman considered Gilder one of the "always sane men in the general madness" of "that New York art delirium" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 5, 1888). For more about Gilder, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Richard Watson (1844–1909)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Robert Underwood Johnson (1853–1937) was on the staff of The Century Magazine from 1873 to 1913, and was U. S. ambassador to Italy in 1920 and 1921. [back]
  • 4. George Kennan (1845–1923) was an American explorer who travelled throughout Siberia and published enthographical accounts of his experience in his 1870 book, Tent Life in Siberia. He later worked as a war correspondent for the Associated Press, and contributed to such magazines as The Century and Atlantic Monthly. [back]
  • 5. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 6. Richard Watson Gilder was a close friend of Frances Folsom Cleveland (1886–1908), President Grover Cleveland's young wife, and often socialized with the President and his family. [back]
  • 7. Charles DeKay (1848–1935) was a New York poet and literary and art critic. He was the brother of the artist Helena DeKay Gilder, wife of the editor Richard Watson Gilder, a friend and supporter of Whitman. DeKay contributed an article on "George Fuller, Painter" to the September 1889 Magazine of Art that compared Fuller and Whitman. Whitman discussed the article with Horace Traubel; see Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, August 22, 1889. [back]
  • 8. For more on Whitman's feelings toward Kennan and DeKay, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, August 22, 1889. [back]
  • 9. 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]
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