Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, [4 October 1887]

Date: October 4, 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), 4:125. 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.00861

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




Camden1
Tuesday P M

Nothing very different with me—I am just going out for a drive—cool & bright weather—hear from Dr Bucke2 frequently—he is busy & well—always writes me cheerily & chipper—wh' I like, for it is pretty monotonous here—have not heard from O'Connor3 for several weeks—suppose he is yet at Bar Harbor—& if "no news is good news" he must be on the mend, wh' I deeply hope—

I return Symonds's4 letter herewith5—the whole matter—this letter & the Fortnightly note—seems to me funny.

("Perhaps there may be bairns, kind sir / Perhaps there may be not")6

Yes, I like the little English Spec. Days, too7—you keep y'r copy—I have a photo. for you soon too—One from Cox's (N Y)8 I call it the laughing philosopher—


W W


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. This letter is endorsed by William Sloane Kennedy: "[Oct. 4, '87]." [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. 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)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. 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]

5. Undoubtedly Symonds's second letter of September 17 to William Sloane Kennedy (See also Whitman's September 7, 1887 letter to Kennedy). [back]

6. Whitman quotes these two lines from a poem by Walter Scott entitled "The Bonny Hynd. Copied from the Mouth of a Milkmaid in 1771." [back]

7. Specimen Days in America was published in Great Britain by Walter Scott in 1887. [back]

8. George Collins "G. C." Cox (1851–1903) was a well-known celebrity photographer who had taken photographs of Whitman when the poet was in New York for a lecture. [back]


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