Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 7 December [1887]

Date: December 7, 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), 4:136. 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.00865

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




Camden
Dec: 7 P M

Yours rec'd to-day—Rhys1 has arr'd & in N Y—Expect him here now every day—I have just written a few lines on Whittier (by request & moderate cash) for an illustrated Phila: periodical, wh' I will send you when printed2—Morse3 decidedly likes the Art Museum as the place to put the bust (& I am inclined the same) but as I said leave it to you & B[axter]45—Affectionate regards to Mrs. Fairchild6—O'Connor7 is poorly —I had a letter from Mrs. O'C.8 I continue ab't the same—Write often as you can—Have Hartmann9 & the "Society" completely fizzled?10


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. 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]

2. Walt Whitman's greeting to Whittier ("As the Greek's Signal Flame") appeared in the New York Herald on December 15 and in Munyon's Illustrated World in January 1888. Whitman received $10 from the latter (Whitman's Commonplace Book; Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Whittier wrote to Whitman on January 13, 1888 to thank him for the greeting. [back]

3. Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) 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. 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]

5. On December 5 William Sloane Kennedy, (Reminiscences of Walt Whitman, 1896) reported his reaction to Morse's bust ("a fine, nay a great, work"), and observed that although Baxter was trying to persuade the Boston Public Library to accept the work, he "preferred the Art Museum" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection, the Library of Congress). On December 29 the library declined "the proposed gift"; William Sloane Kennedy, (Reminiscences of Walt Whitman, 1896), noted, "They tho't it too sketchy, they said" (Trent Collection, Duke University). [back]

6. Elizabeth "Lily" Nelson Fairchild (1845–1924) was a Boston socialite and writer, and the wife of Colonel Charles Fairchild. She assisted in the Boston fundraising for Whitman's proposed (but never built) small cabin. [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. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years, and he speaks often in his letters of their daughter Jean, by nickname "Jenny" or "Jeannie." Though Whitman and William O'Connor would break in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see also Dashae E. Lott, "William Douglas O'Connor," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. C. Sadakichi Hartmann (ca. 1867–1944) was an art historian and early critic of photography as an art form. He visited Whitman in Camden in the 1880s and published his conversations with the poet in 1895. Generally unpopular with other supporters of the poet, he was known during his years in Greenwich Village as the "King of Bohemia." For more information about Hartmann, see John F. Roche, "Hartmann, C. Sadakichi (ca. 1867–1944)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Walt Whitman informed Horace Traubel that "The Whitman Club in Boston has petered out"—a conclusion he approved of: "I seem to need to be studied by each man for himself, not by a club." For Whitman's recollections of the failure of the club, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, April 24, 1888[back]


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