Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 16 April 1889

Date: April 16, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00919

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), 4:321. 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, Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

April 16 '89

Nothing very different or new in my affairs—the past ten days bad rather—sort of suspicion of lull to-day—y'r last rec'd—have no opinion or comment or suggestion to make1—did you receive (& send on to O'C[onnor])2 my letter3 with Stedman's4 enc'd?5 Am sitting here alone as usual.

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 was a cold rejoinder to Kennedy's announcement on April 8, 1889 that Alexander Gardner was going to publish Kennedy's "Walt Whitman, Poet of Humanity" "in 2 vols." Whitman offered no opinion about Gardner's request to delete Kennedy's inclusion of "the censor's list of objectionable passages" in the Osgood edition of Leaves of Grass[back]

2. 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]

3. Whitman is referring to his April 8, 1889, letter to William Sloane Kennedy, William Douglas O'Connor, and Richard Maurice Bucke. He sent instructions with this letter that directed Kennedy to send the letter and its enclosure to Ellen O'Connor (wife of William D. O'Connor), and then the O'Connors were to send the letters to Bucke. The enclosure Whitman sent with the letter was a March 27, 1889, letter that he had received from the writer and editor, Edmund Clarence Stedman. [back]

4. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. See Stedman's letter to Whitman of March 27, 1889[back]


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