Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 7 October 1889

Date: October 7, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00930

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), 4:380. 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, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden New Jersey
Evn'g, Oct. 7 '89

Here yet holding the fort, gradually being sapp'd no doubt but fair spirits yet—Y'rs rec'd & always welcomed1 (I enclose Dr Bucke's2 letter to me, mentioning y'r last wh' I lent him)—Nothing specially new or significant with my condition or literary matters—the proceedings3 of the Birth Day Dinner4 not yet bound but I believe have gone to press5—& I will send you one soon as ready—


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. Kennedy's letter of October 3, 1889 was addressed to "Dear Old Quaker Friend of the horse-taming sea-kings of Long Island." Among other things in his affected prose he asked, "How is it with you? Do you get any Emersonian soul-baths?" He continued: "I have not seen a man for two years. I begin to think they are scarce, scarce, scarce. Dr. Bucke seems to me one. . . . Query: if I want to see an heroic man, why don't I become one myself? Perhaps I am, unbeknownst!" [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. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration on May 31, 1889 in Camden, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]

4. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

5. In his letter of June 2, 1889, Whitman proposed this book, which would become Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (1889), to Horace Traubel. [back]


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