Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 19 October 1888

Date: October 19, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00908

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), 4:223–224. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

Friday Evn'g
Oct: 19 '88

It is dark & I have had my dinner & am sitting by the fire & gas light—anchor'd & tied in my old big democratic chair & room, the same as all summer, now in the fall & soon the long winter & (if I live) probably through all—I have been occupied most of the afternoon writing my autographs—there are to be 600 for the Edition of my complete writings—it will be ab't 900 pages, & include all1—a last few ?2 revisions (no changes at all, but a few misprints, brokennesses, & errors corrected)—will be an authenticated ed'n—You shall have one—I will send one when ready—It is slow, but I am in no hurry.

Y'r card came this P. M. but no Trans[cript] with notice yet3—(will doubtless come to-morrow)—No further word from O'C[onnor]4. I wait with anxiety—I told you ab't my dear friend John Burroughs5 being here—he is now back at West Park6—I hear from Dr B[ucke]7 very often—welcome letters—have been reading Ellis's "Early English Metrical Romances" (Bohn's Ed'n)8—Miss Pardoe's Louis XIV,9 and several Carlyle10 books including Mrs. C's Letters11—Symonds's "Greek Poets"12 &c—upon the whole, get along & baffle lonesomeness, inertia & the blues. God bless you & the wife—

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. 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]

2. Walt Whitman's question mark. [back]

3. William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896), wrote on October 18, 1888 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, October 19, 1888). This review of November Boughs (1888) appeared in the Boston Transcript on October 17, 1888 (reprinted in Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, October 19, 1888), which also contained a long article by Whitman admirer C. Sadakichi Hartmann. [back]

4. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). 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]

5. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Burroughs wrote from West Park, New York on October 16, 1888 after his return from the seashore (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 17, 1888). [back]

7. 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]

8. George Ellis' Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances first appeared in the Bohn edition in 1848. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, July 20, 1888[back]

9. Whitman is referring to Julia Pardoe's Louis the Fourteenth and the Court of France in the Seventeenth Century (1855). See Whitman's letter of September 25–26, 1888 to Richard Maurice Bucke. [back]

10. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985). [back]

11. Whitman is probably referring to Jane Carlyle Welsh (1801–1866), Thomas Carlyle's wife, and to reading the volume that collects her correspondence. The book is entitled Letters and Memorials of Jane Carlyle Welsh. It was edited by James Anthony Froude (and prepared for publication by Thomas Carlyle), and published in 1883 by by Charles Scribner's Sons. [back]

12. Whitman refers here to John Addington Symonds' Studies of the Greek Poets (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1873–1876), in which Whitman was lauded as "more thoroughly Greek than any man of modern times." [back]


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