Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 18 August [1886]

Date: August 18, [1886]

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00821

Source: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:43. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Kyle Barton, Marie Ernster, Stephanie Blalock, and Amanda J. Axley

Aug: 18

I send O'Connor's1 letter, with the clipping from the Nation2—if you care to look at them. I have not heard whether you rec'd the MS. book3—I sent it hence by Adams' Express, last Friday afternoon.4 I remain ab't the same in health—as I write (Wednesday forenoon) it is cloudy and sufficiently cool here, & I am sitting by the open window downstairs as usual—am comfortable. I have of late–past been writing several pieces (as I believe I told you before)—they are to appear in time in N A Rev:5—Century6—& Lippincott's7—have been paid for—


William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 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. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Whitman is referring to to William Douglas O'Connor's letter of August 17, 1886. In that letter, O'Connor sent a clipping from The Nation of August 12 containing "a cheering review" of a book by Hutcheson Macaulay Posnett entitled Comparative Literature (1886), in which Whitman was referred to; see also O'Connor's letter to Whitman of December 10, 1886[back]

3. Kennedy's manuscript, "Walt Whitman, the Poet of Humanity," eventually became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (1926). [back]

4. Whitman looked over the manuscript, provided comments and suggestions, and sent it back to Kennedy via Adams' Express. See Whitman's letter to Kennedy of August 13, 1886[back]

5. Whitman's "Robert Burns" appeared in The Critic on December 16. He received $15 for the article (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). With additions he republished it as "Robert Burns as Poet and Person" in The North American Review, 143 (1886), 427–435, and in November Boughs (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1888), 57–64. [back]

6. Whitman is likely referring to his article "Army Hospitals and Cases," which he sent to The Century on August 10, 1886. It was published in the magazine in October 1888. [back]

7. Whitman is referring to his article "My Book and I," which was published in Lippincott's (January 1887), 121–127. [back]


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