Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 18 December 1888

Date: December 18, 1888

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977).

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02964

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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Tuesday PM
Dec: 18 '88

Thanks for the 13th note—write oftener—I have been thro another very bad spell—ten days, two of them quite serious—but am somewhat better—am sitting up anyhow writing this, but my brain is flabby—my grip weak—The doctor speaks of a pronounc'd gastric trouble, from long indigestion—No I have no recollection of any "Solitude"1—have no doubt it is a total invention (not to use the word fraud wh' is perfectly proper)—my relations were never at all intimate with Lowell—there are a good many such—it might be worth while to stamp them peremptorily in future—I have included all my stuff in "Complete Vol," a big book2 authenticated by me now, rather cheaply bound & I w'd like to send a package of four or five copies (including one to you) by Express to you—one for Garland3, one for Baxter4 and one for Mrs. Fairchild5—all for Christmas presents—package to be prepaid—can you receive it & see they get to their destination?6—Where shall it (the package) be directed to you, in Boston, if so?—I have seen the notice in the Literary World7 & like it well enough—Dr Bucke8 (I hear from him often) likes it well—do you know its author? The Paris (France) Revue Independent magazine November has a notice L of G.—also something in a Palermo (Italy) paper—Dr B has them—No word now for quite a while from my dear O'Connor9—I am very uneasy ab't him—I have (did I tell you?) a good strong willing nurse10, & good doctoring watch—I send my love & memories to Mrs: F., to Baxter, to Garland, to yourself, dear friend, & wife11—& to Sanborn12 if you see him—I must now get to the bed—

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. On December 13, 1888 William Sloane Kennedy inquired: "Did you ever write a production called 'Solitude.' It is credited to you by a pencil-script line in the Harvard College Library. I don't believe it is yrs, but that it is an imitation. It is unbound, abt 2/3 the size of this sheet, contains 16 pp. & has written on it in pencil 'Presented to the Library by Prof. Jas. Russell Lowell, 1860. Sept 26." James Russell Lowell (1819–1891) was editor of the Atlantic Monthly, where he published Whitman's "Bardic Symbols" [later "As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life"] in April of 1860. [back]

2. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, he made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

3. Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) was an American novelist and autobiographer, known especially for his works about the hardships of farm life in the American Midwest. For his relationship to Whitman, see Thomas K. Dean, "Garland, Hamlin," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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. Elizabeth Fairchild was the wife of Colonel Charles Fairchild, the president of a paper company, to whom Whitman sent the Centennial Edition on March 2, 1876 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). He mailed her husband a copy of Progress in April, 1881, shortly after his visit to Boston, where he probably met the Fairchilds for the first time (Commonplace Book). [back]

6. Kennedy received the volumes and delivered them as Whitman requested. See Kennedy's letter to Whitman of December 25, 1888[back]

7. A review of November Boughs (1888) appeared in The Literary World (Boston) on December 8, 1888. Richard Maurice Bucke commented on December 16, 1888: "He [the author] is a good friend and has considerable insight into matters—is evidently holding himself in in the little col. and half article." [back]

8. 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]

9. Whitman has forgotten the postcard O'Connor wrote on December 9, 1888, in which he says: "I have been very sick and feeble for month past, but am a little better. My eye got open at last, but is still bleary and bad." [back]

10. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

11. William Sloane Kennedy married Adeline Ella Lincoln of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1883; they lived for forty years in a house they built in Belmont, Massachusetts.  [back]

12. Franklin B. Sanborn (1831–1917) was an abolitionist and a friend of John Brown. In 1860, when he was tried in Boston because of his refusal to testify before a committee of the U.S. Senate, Whitman was in the courtroom (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: Macmillan, 1955], 242). He reviewed Drum-Taps in the Boston Commonwealth on February 24, 1866. He was editor of the Springfield Republican from 1868 to 1872, and was the author of books dealing with his friends Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. "A Visit to the Good Gray Poet" appeared without Sanborn's name in the Springfield Republican on April 19, 1876. For more on Sanborn, see Linda K. Walker, "Sanborn, Franklin Benjamin (Frank) (1831–1917)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 605. [back]


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