Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 14 September 1887

Date: September 14, 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), 4:122. 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.00858

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock




328 Mickle Street
Camden New Jersey
Sept: 14 '87

I am ab't as usual—have just had my dinner, a slice of cold roast beef, & a couple of cook'd apples wh' I ate with relish—Dr Bucke1 has been here for a week—leaves this evening—H[erbert] G[ilchrist]2 is here—leaves 21st on the Germani[a]. Nothing very new with me in literary matters—or anent—I sent a little poem to Harpers—(Alden)3—but it came back, refused4—this is the 4th refusal within a few months, & I shall try no more.

Phila: is all alive with the Centennial U S Constitutional commemoration, & will be thro' the week—I have been pressingly invited, but cannot go—(A crowd & hubbub are no place for me)—Fine weather here for several weeks—cloudy & rainy this week, however—I enclose J A Symonds's5 note—(rather flat it seems to me)—also something ab't Ruskin6—How ab't the W W Society7? Anything new? Yes, I shall send you a copy of English ed'n "Spec: Days"8


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. 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]

2. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Henry Mills Alden (1836–1919) was editor of Harper's New Monthly Magazine from 1869 until his death. [back]

4. On behalf of the Constitutional Centennial Commission, Hampton L. Carson requested on August 3 that Walt Whitman write and read a "patriotic poem commemorative of the triumph of popular institutions." [back]

5. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. John Ruskin (1819–1900) was one of the leading art critics in Victorian Great Britain. Whitman sent Leaves of Grass and a "couple of photographs" to Ruskin via William Harrison Riley in March 1879 (see the letter from Whitman to Riley of March 18, 1879). Ruskin, according to Whitman, expressed "worry [...] that [Leaves is] too personal, too emotional, launched from the fires of [...] spinal passions, joys, yearnings" (see the letter from Whitman to William O'Connor of October 7, 1882). Whitman, late in life, said to Horace Traubel: "[I] take my Ruskin with some qualifications." Still, Ruskin "is not to be made little of: is of unquestionable genius and nobility" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 24, 1889). [back]

7. Author Carl Sadakichi Hartmann was trying to establish a Walt Whitman Society in Boston. Whitman would later credit Kennedy and Sylvester Baxter with putting an end to Hartmann's Whitman Club at the poet's request (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, September 8, 1888). [back]

8. Whitman sent the book on September 29 (Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]


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