Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 17 March 1889

Date: March 17, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00917

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:303. 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, Caterina Bernardini, Stefan Schöberlein, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
Evn'g March 17 '89

Matters not very different—the Transcripts rec'd—read & sent to O'Connor1—O'C had a very bad spell ag'n since I wrote you ab't him (epileptic fits)—but was better three days ago, but weak & in bed—Dr B[ucke]2 here yet—

I sit here alone same as ever, in my big old chair with the thick wolf-skin back—Mrs Spaulding3 call'd to-day.4


Walt Whitman


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. 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]

2. 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]

3. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

4. In her March 27, 1889, letter to Whitman, Mrs. A. H. Spaulding expressed extravagant gratitude for the visit. On one of her calling cards the poet wrote: "dear friend of L of G & me—a middle-aged lady—I sh'd say—one of the real circle." The calling card is part of the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of Walt Whitman papers, held by the Library of Congress, See MSS18630, Box 41, Reel 26. [back]


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