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Walt Whitman to John & Ursula Burroughs, 21 May [1874]

 uva_jc.00430_large.jpg John & Ursula Burroughs, Dear friends,

Thank you for the kind reminder that room & breakfast plate2 are ready—I shall be coming along—will send you word when—

I have hardly any thing to tell about my improvement3 in health—it is certain I do not get really worse—& yet lameness & pretty bad headspells—added to which lately a great deal of pain & oppression in left side—keep me back. John I sympathise with you in that jolly bother  uva_jc.00431_large.jpg among the bees & the ground, & birds, nag, &c.—Such homely ties—& to come in real contact—& have to do with them—

The piece I thought might amuse you in the Galaxy4 is "Our Neighborhood" by Lady Blanche Murphy.5

—John, I enclose a slip about Carlyle,6 the latest news—seems to be authentic—

So long, dear friends, Walt Whitman  uva_jc.00432_large.jpg  uva_jc.00433_large.jpg

The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) married Ursula North (1836–1917) in 1857 and became friends with Whitman after meeting the poet 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 John Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman and 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). However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." 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 John and Ursula 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: John Burroughs, | Esopus, | Ulster co. | New York. It is postmarked: Camden | May 21 | N.J. [back]
  • 2. See John Burroughs's letter to Whitman of May 17, 1874. [back]
  • 3. Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke on January 23, 1873. His friends in Washington, D.C. helped to care for him: John Burroughs, Peter Doyle, and Ellen O'Connor. See Whitman's letters to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated January 26, 27, 29, and 31, 1873, in which he describes his illness and gradual recovery. [back]
  • 4. William Conant Church (1836–1917) established the Galaxy in 1866 with his brother Francis Pharcellus Church (1839–1906). Financial control of the Galaxy passed to Sheldon & Company in 1868, and it was absorbed by the Atlantic Monthly in 1878. For a time, the Churches considered Whitman a regular contributor, printing two of his essays that later made up a significant portion of Democratic Vistas (1871) and several of his poems, including" A Carol of Harvest for 1867," "Brother of All, With Generous Hand," "Warble for Lilac-Time," and "O Star of France." For more on Whitman's relationship with the Galaxy, see Susan Belasco, "Whitman's Poems in Periodicals—The Galaxy." [back]
  • 5. Lady Blanche Elizabeth Mary Annunciata Noel Murphy (1845–1881) was a writer who contributed to many periodicals of her day, including Harper's, the Atlantic Monthly, and the Galaxy. Lady Blanche's account of English social life appeared in the May 1874 issue of the Galaxy (679–688). [back]
  • 6. 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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