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Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 1 April [1875]

Dear John,

I have look'd over the Emerson notes1—read them all over once—am precluded from any thing more or giving any very deep or elaborate analysis of them, in connection with the Emerson question, (as my brain is in a state not allowing thought, argument or study)—but still I will give you my first impressions of your pages:

In their totality, they produce a not agreeable notion of being written by one who has been largely grown & ripened & gristled by Emerson, but has at last become dissatisfied & finnicky about him, & would pitch into him, but cannot—perhaps dare not—and so keeps running around in a sort of circle of praises & half praises, like a horse tied by a tether.

Your Notes also seem to me (to be plain) a good deal too diffuse, & too Emersony in themselves—I should select about one third of the MS. as first rate, (including the opening part)—My opinion is that you had perhaps better work it all over, & leave out at least half—

About the allusions to me, my off–hand thought is that my name might be brought in, in one or two places, as foil or suggestive comparison—but my name only, without any praises or comments, (only the silently inferred ones)—to my friends, & circle, who know the relations & history between me & Emerson, the mere mention of the name itself, in that way, will be significant—(& it might give pungency to the sentence)2

I have had a bad time the last two weeks—head & belly—& I almost wonder I stand it so well—for I do stand it—I go out most every day, a little—John Swinton3, from N. Y. has been to see me—

Love to you & 'Sula— WW


  • 1. Burroughs published "A Word or Two on Emerson" and "A Final Word on Emerson" in the Galaxy in February and April, 1876; the essays were reprinted in Birds and Poets (1877), 185–210. For Whitman's final verdict on the articles, see his June 17, 1876 letter to Burroughs. [back]
  • 2. Deferring to Whitman's wishes, Burroughs deleted a paragraph expressing "wonder" that Emerson had ever accepted Whitman. The passage was restored in Birds and Poets. See Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931), 135–136. [back]
  • 3. Scottish-born John Swinton (1829–1901), a journalist and friend of Karl Marx, became acquainted with Whitman during the Civil War. Swinton, managing editor of the New York Times, frequented Pfaff's beer cellar, where he probably met Whitman. Whitman's correspondence with Swinton began on February 23, 1863. Swinton's enthusiasm for Whitman was unbounded. On September 25, 1868, Swinton wrote: "I am profoundly impressed with the great humanity, or genius, that expresses itself through you. I read this afternoon in the book. I read its first division which I never before read. I could convey no idea to you of how it affects my soul. It is more to me than all other books and poetry." On June 23, 1874, Swinton wrote what the poet termed "almost like a love letter": "It was perhaps the very day of the publication of the first edition of the 'Leaves of Grass' that I saw a copy of it at a newspaper stand in Fulton street, Brooklyn. I got it, looked into it with wonder, and felt that here was something that touched on depths of my humanity. Since then you have grown before me, grown around me, and grown into me" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, April 10, 1888). He praised Whitman in the New York Herald on April 1, 1876 (reprinted in Richard Maurice Bucke, Walt Whitman [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883], 36–37). Swinton was in 1874 a candidate of the Industrial Political Party for the mayoralty of New York. From 1875 to 1883, he was with the New York Sun, and for the next four years edited the weekly labor journal, John Swinton's Paper. When this publication folded, he returned to the Sun. See Robert Waters, Career and Conversation of John Swinton (Chicago: C.H. Kerr, 1902), and Meyer Berger, The History of The New York Times, 1851–1951 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1951), 250–251. For more on Swinton, see also Donald Yannella, "Swinton, John (1829–1901)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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