Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 29 April [1887]

Date: April 29, 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), 4:89. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Treasures From Walt Whitman, Huntington Public Library, Huntington, New York

Whitman Archive ID: hpl.00005

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Kevin McMullen, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
April 29 a m

Feeling pretty fair to-day. Drove down yesterday four miles to "Billy Thompson's,"1 on the Delaware river edge, to a nice dinner, baked shad & champagne galore—jolly company2—enjoy'd all with moderation3—No, the Mr Smith, my liberal & faithful Quaker friend, is R Pearsall Smith4 (glass manufacturer & man of wealth) father of Mrs. Costelloe,5 my staunchest living woman friend—the Librarian Logan Smith,6 (now dead) was his brother—Did you see the N. Y. Eve. Sun of 15th Ap[ril]?7


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. William J. "Billy" Thompson (1848–1911), known as "The Duke of Gloucester" and "The Statesman," was a friend of Whitman's who operated a hotel, race track, and amusement park on the beach overlooking the Delaware River at Gloucester, New Jersey. His chad and champagne dinners for Whitman were something of a tradition. See William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896), 15–16. [back]

2. The diners included Thomas B. Harned, James Matlack Scovel, Judge Hugg, and William Duckett (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Whitman had also gone to Thompson's at Gloucester, N.J., on April 24, 1886 (See Whitman's letter to Kennedy of April 27, 1886). [back]

3. A year prior, Whitman noted in his Commonplace Book that he had a "planked shad & champagne dinner at Billy Thompson's" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

4. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Whitman has inadvertently written "Logan" here instead of "Lloyd." Lloyd Smith was Robert Pearsall Smith's brother and a librarian; Logan Smith was Robert's son. [back]

7. The paper included "The Good Gray Poet Is White Now," an account of Whitman's lecture entitled "The Death of Abraham Lincoln," delivered in New York City on Thursday, April 14, 1887. [back]


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