Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 22 February 1887

Date: February 22, 1887

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:69. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00832

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Kevin McMullen, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
Feb 22 '87—noon

Nothing further from O'Connor.1 See pp. 39 and 40 in Dr Buckes2 book ab't the wife & their hospitality to me—they had two children, a boy died in early childhood—the girl died not long since aged 22 or 33—a fine girl—I knew her quite well—I cant get over what you say ab't Trowbridge4—tell me the particulars5—I am sitting here in the little front room writing this—


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889][back]

2. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Jean O'Connor died in May 1883 (see the letter from Whitman to Kennedy of May 24, 1882), about the time Bucke's Walt Whitman was being printed. [back]

4. John Townsend Trowbridge (1827–1916) was a novelist, poet, author of juvenile stories, and anti-slavery reformer. Though Trowbridge became familiar with Whitman's poetry in 1855, he did not meet Whitman until 1860, when the poet was in Boston overseeing the Thayer and Eldridge edition of Leaves of Grass. For several weeks in 1863, Trowbridge stayed with Whitman in Washington, D.C., along with John Burroughs and William D. O'Connor. [back]

5. Whitman is concerned here about Trowbridge's claim that Emerson was the inspiration for Leaves of Grass; see Whitman's letter to Kennedy of February 25, 1887[back]


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