Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 25 December 1888

Date: December 25, 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.

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

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02965

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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Belmont Hill
overlooking the sea on this
bright warm day
Dec 25, '88

Dear Friend:—

Merry Xmas yrself !

You are prolific in surprises these days! The Complete Whitman1 is a great surprise. It dwarfs everything else. That wonderful title page I look at & look at, & can't seem to get dovetailed into my mind. —it is so original—unique, & full of speaking life.

I had a good time yesterday (an exciting warm dash here & there) in Boston while getting the books to their respective destinations. Please don't mention the express ch'g . it was only—trifle & I want you to let me pay it please. You will have heavy postage on so many others of yr 150. Have the other 450 McKay's2 imprint? I left Baxter's3 on his office table, & he got it shortly, although I did not succeed in seeing him. Garland's4 I left with Baxter, having previously verified him (Garland) to be on the lookout. (He had a col. & ½ piece in Herald on single tax (Hen. Georgeism5) yesterday. Sanborn,6 since his loss of the state inspectorship of Charities office, has a table & chair at 141 Franklin St. (Geo. H. Ellis's printing & pub. house)7. I left his book on his table in charge of good hands. I afterwards took a long walk down to 191 Commonwealth Ave, but found that Mrs Fairchild8 cd see no one, owing to one of her children having the measles—a catching disease or ailment. I was disappointed as I wanted to chat with her abt her visit to England.

Mrs K's pleasant proof-room is at Geo. H. Ellis's; & as I happened down there to see Sanborn at 12 o'c. we, (wifey & I), went out together & got a good dinner on Atlantic Ave. where we cd glimpse the sparkling sea, & see the foreign masts right at hand across the street.

My day had a sad ending. A man right by me in a crowd at Fitchburg R.R. station tried to jump aboard train—partially intoxicated I tho't —fell under the wheels, had his foot cut off, & otherwise, probably fatally injured. It was the first bad accident I had ever witnessed (strange to say), & it made me sick, haunted me all the evening & night. I tho't of you & your hospital work, & realized for the first time the awful strain it must have been on you nurses & visitors. Such is the web of our life—joy & sorrow in rhythmic alternation.

Please give my very special congratulations to Traubel9 anent this big volume (for I suppose he helped some). And give my regards to your Canadian nurse-friend. Wife sends love & remembrances.

affec.
W. S. Kennedy

(write again soon if you can.)


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. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page, 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]

2. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–2. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the publisher Whitman had originally contracted with for publication of the volume, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, and Complete Prose Works. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. 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]

4. 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]

5. Henry George (1839–1897) was a social reformer from Philadelphia. His published works include his pamphlet Our Land and Land Policy (1871), Progress and Poverty (1879), and Social Problems (1883). [back]

6. 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]

7. George H. Ellis ran a printing office in Boston and became the publisher of the Boston Daily Advertizer, then founded the Boston Evening Record as an organ of support for Democratic presidential candidate Grover Cleveland. [back]

8. 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]

9. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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