Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 13 June 1887

Date: June 13, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00849

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), 4:100. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

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

Monday forenoon
June 13 '87

Yours of 11th just rec'd2—it is a fine bright morning, just the right temperature—I am feeling better to-day—freer (almost free) of the heavy congested condition (especially the head department) that has been upon me for nearly a week—Took a long drive yesterday & have been living much on strawberries of late—Don't write much—just sold & got the money for—& it comes in good, I tell you—a poem to Lippincotts—(Mr Walsh3 editor—friendly to me)—poem called "November Boughs," a cluster of sonnet-like bits, making one piece, in shape like "Fancies at Navesink"—that ("November Boughs") is the name, by the by, I think of giving my little book, I want to have out before '87 closes—shall probably print it here in Phila: myself—it will merely give the pieces I have uttered the last five years, in correct form, more permanent in book shape—probably nothing new—I see a piece in Saturday's June 11 N Y Times4 that Boyle O'Reilly5 is treasurer of my summer cottage fund—(dear Boyle, if you see him say I sent my best love & thanks)—I wish you fellows, Baxter6, Mrs F[airchild]7, yourself &c, to leave the selection, arrangement, disposal &c of the cottage, (where, how, &c) to me—the whole thing is something I am making much reckoning of—more probably than you all are aware—the am't shall be put of course to that definite single purpose, & there I shall probably mainly live the rest of my days—O how I want to get amid good air—the air is so tainted here, five or six months in the year, at best8—As I write Herbert Gilchrist9 is here sketching in my portrait for an oil painting—I hear from Dr Bucke10 often—nothing now of late from O'Connor11, who is still in So: Cal—My friend Pearsall Smith12 & his daughter sailed for England in the Eider last Saturday—

Walt Whitman

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. This letter is addressed: Wm Sloane Kennedy | Belmont | Mass:. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jun 14 | 6 PM | 87. [back]

2. Kennedy's letter appears to be lost. [back]

3. William S. Walsh (1854–1919) was an American historian, poet, critic, and editor. [back]

4. The article is entitled "A Cottage for Walt Whitman." See Whitman's May 25, 1887 letter to Sylvester Baxter. [back]

5. John Boyle O'Reilly (1844–1890) was a fervent Irish patriot who joined the British Army in order to sabotage it. He was arrested and sentenced to be hanged in 1866. Later the decree was altered, and O'Reilly was sent to Australia, where he escaped on an American whaler in 1869. In 1876 he became the coeditor of the Boston Pilot, a position which he held until his death in 1890. See William G. Schofield, Seek for a Hero: The Story of John Boyle O'Reilly (New York: Kennedy, 1956). For more on O'Reilly, see also the letter from Whitman to James R. Osgood of May 8, 1881[back]

6. 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]

7. Elizabeth Fairchild (see Whitman's letter to Truman Howe Bartlett, October 14, 1883) was assisting in the Boston fundraising for Whitman's proposed (but never built) small cabin, to be built on land near Timber Creek, New Jersey, owned by Whitman's friends Susan and George Stafford. [back]

8. On June 18 Baxter wrote: "Of course we shall be glad to have you take charge of the business for yourself, following your own inclinations in the way of location, plan, etc." (The Library of Congress). [back]

9. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. 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]

11. 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]

12. 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]


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