Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, John Burroughs, and Richard Maurice Bucke, 21 April 1887

Date: April 21, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00867

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:87. 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, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

April 21, '871

. . . I go over this afternoon at urgent request of my friend R. P. Smith2—to some quarters in Arch St. provided for me, where I believe I am to be sculp'd by St. Gaudens, the sculptor.3 I rec'd $600. for my N. Y. reading.4 Andrew Carnegie5 (thro' Gilder)6 paid $350 for his box. . . . I have eaten a good breakfast with zest.

Walt Whitman


1. According to William Sloane Kennedy, whose transcription, held in the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana at Duke University, is the only available text, the letter was written on the verso of one from Charles Eldridge to Whitman on April 14, 1887, discussing William D. O'Connor's illness and his indignation over Thomas Wentworth Higginson's articles in Harper's Bazar: "It is fortunate for Higginson that I am sick." On March 5 Higginson wrote about the "proposed pension for Mr. Whitman, the poet; although he is not wholly an instance in point, having been a man of conspicuously fine physique, but who deliberately preferred service in the hospitals rather than in the field." On March 26, in "Women and Men. The Victory of the Weak," Higginson supported Lanier's attack upon the "dandyism" in Whitman's depiction of the "roughs." [back]

2. 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]

3. Apparently Whitman did not sit for Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907), since the entry in his Commonplace Book on the following day made no reference to the sculptor, who had attended the New York lecture (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

4. This is a reference to Whitman's lecture entitled "The Death of Abraham Lincoln." He first delivered this lecture in New York in 1879 and would deliver it at least eight other times over the succeeding years, delivering it for the last time on April 15, 1890. He published a version of the lecture as "Death of Abraham Lincoln" in Specimen Days and Collect (1882–83). For more on the lecture, see Larry D. Griffin, "'Death of Abraham Lincoln,'" Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919), the prominent industrialist and admirer of Whitman, had donated twice to the support of the aged poet. [back]

6. Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) was the assistant editor of Scribner's Monthly from 1870 to 1881 and editor of its successor, The Century, from 1881 until his death. Whitman had met Gilder for the first time in 1877 at John H. Johnston's (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: New York University Press, 1955], 482). Whitman attended a reception and tea given by Gilder after William Cullen Bryant's funeral on June 14; see "A Poet's Recreation" in the New York Tribune, July 4, 1878. Whitman considered Gilder one of the "always sane men in the general madness" of "that New York art delirium" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 5, 1888). For more about Gilder, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Richard Watson (1844–1909)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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