Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 17 November 1887

Date: November 17, 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), 4:132. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00863

Contributors to digital file: Ryan Furlong, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

Nov. 17 '87 noon

I express'd the plaster head1 to you last evening pre-paid, address'd to you, care of Sylvester Baxter2, Herald office, 255 Washington st. Boston—it is in a stout rather heavy box—I myself like the head muchly—it is what we call the 2d head—Morse3 made one, the 1st, with more brooding repose & dignity, more of the antique spirit &c. wh' many like best—it is good, & attractive but tho' I like the 1st decidedly I am quite clear this is the typical one, modern, reaching out, looking ahead, democratic, more touch of animation (perhaps unsettledness) &c. &c.—not intended to be polished off—left purposely a little in the rough—

I suppose you rec'd my cards—You and S B think over what I say ab't giving the head to some Boston Art Institution or (if you prefer) other depositary, appropriate.You & he have absolute power to dispose of it in that way—It ought to be ready for you there at the Herald office, Friday or Saturday morning—I also sent you by mail to Belmont the Cox photo4 you requested—hope you will write me Tuesday (or Wednesday) ab't all, the meeting &c. details5—I am ab't as usual, health &c—pretty dull & heavy—M D Conway6 has been to see me—No word from O'C[onnor]7. Morse is here. I expect to see Ernest Rhys8 soon. I get word from Dr B[ucke]9 often. Sunshiny out to-day—I think of going forth with horse & rig after dinner—God bless you and wife—

Walt Whitman

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).


1. The sculptor Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) made two plaster busts of Whitman. Here, Whitman is referring to the second bust. [back]

2. Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Sidney H. Morse was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 57–84; and David Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography (New York: Vintage Books, 1996), 546–590. [back]

4. George Cox proposed selling signed copies of his photographs of Whitman. However, when the September 1887 issue of Century appeared with an advertisement, Whitman still had not seen proofs, much less signed the photographs. He wrote John H. Johnston on September 1, 1887, "He sell my photo, with autograph. The latter is forged, & the former illegal & unauthorized." The disagreement was quickly resolved, and Whitman signed photographs for Cox and returned them. [back]

5. See the letter from Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor and Richard Maurice Bucke of November 23, 1887. [back]

6. On November 12 Walt Whitman had a "visit from Moncure D. Conway with a carriage, to take me over to R P Smith's for a few days. (I do not go)" (Whitman's Commonplace Book; Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

7. 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]

8. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. 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]


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