Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 7 May 1888

Date: May 7, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00926

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), 4:168–169. 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, and Stephanie Blalock

May 7 Evn'g '88

Here is Rhys's1 last letter to me2—I suppose (but don't know for certain) that Union League Club New York City w'd reach him—I have been out driving this afternoon & was out yesterday, wh' is the best indication I can give of myself—I still write a little, but almost hate to not wanting to tack on lethargy & indigestion &c to what I have already uttered3—Thank you for the Transcripts & the last Sunday Herald4

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). Apparently Kennedy had 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. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Rhys was in Camden on May 15—"goes this afternoon to N Y, & thence (after visiting Dr B[ucke]) to England" (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). See Whitman's letter to Richard Maurice Bucke of May 24, 1888[back]

3. Whitman was paid $40 by the New York Herald for his April contributions. See the letter from James Gordon Bennett of the Herald to Whitman of May 4, 1888[back]

4. Louise Chandler Moulton's "Three Very Famous People. Mrs. Cleveland, George W. Childs and Walt Whitman. Words of Washington and Philadelphia. Poet Who Wrote of the Birds on Paumanok's Shore" appeared in the April 29, 1888, Boston Sunday Herald, recounting a visit to the poet. Whitman appeared frequently in the Boston Transcript, including in the March 6, 1888, issue, which contained an account of Ernest Rhys's lecture on "The New Poetry." [back]


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