Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 18 June 1890

Date: June 18, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00954

Source: The Trent Collection of Walt Whitman Manuscripts, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library . The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:54–55. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

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

June 18 1890

Fairly with me these days—Did I tell you my last piece (poem) was rejected by the Century1 (R W Gilder2)—I have now been shut off by all the magazines here & the Nineteenth Century3 in England—& feel like closing house as poem writer—(you know a fellow doesn't make brooms or shoes if nobody will have 'em4)—I shall put in order a last little 6 or 8 page annex5 (the second) of my Leaves of Grass—& that will probably be the finish—

I get out almost daily in wheel chair6—was out yesterday down to river shore & staid there an hour—cloudy weather now fourth day, but entirely pleasant—appetite fair—had oatmeal porridge, honey & tea for breakfast—shall probably have stew'd mutton & rice for early supper (do not eat dinner at all, find it best)—have massage every day—bath also—have a good nurse Warren Fritzinger7—sell a book occasionally—get along better than you might think anyhow—have some pretty bad spells—some talkers bores questioners (hateful)—two splendid letters lately8 f'm R G Ingersoll9—I enclose Dr B[ucke]'s,10 rec'd this morning11—Love to Mrs: K12— God bless you both—

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. The editor of The Century, Richard Watson Gilder, rejected Whitman's poem "On, On the Same, Ye Jocund Twain." The poem was eventually published in Once a Week on June 9, 1891. See Gilder's letter to Whitman of May 14, 1890[back]

2. Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) was the assistant editor of Scribner's Monthly from 1870 to 1881 and editor of its successor, The Century, from 1881 until his death. Whitman had met Gilder for the first time in 1877 at John H. Johnston's (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: New York University Press, 1955], 482). Whitman attended a reception and tea given by Gilder after William Cullen Bryant's funeral on June 14; see "A Poet's Recreation" in the New York Tribune, July 4, 1878. Whitman considered Gilder one of the "always sane men in the general madness" of "that New York art delirium" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 5, 1888). For more about Gilder, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Richard Watson (1844–1909)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. The Nineteenth Century was a British literary magazine founded in 1877 by the architect James Thomas Knowles, Jr. (1831–1908). This monthly magazine served as a platform for debate between the period's leading intellectuals. [back]

4. On April 22 Walt Whitman had written (truthfully) in his Commonplace Book: "Quite a number of offers f'm publishers, magazine editors, & heads of newspaper syndicates these times." Although he feigned equanimity about his critical reception, he did not accept rejections gracefully, even though he was now writing, as he admitted, "pot boilers" (see Whitman's February 2, 1890, letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke). No doubt Walt Whitman expected that friends like William Sloane Kennedy would attack the "enemy." But Kennedy in his reply on June 19, 1890, said: "Well what of it? You can afford to rest on yr glorious laurels. If only a stirring great occasion arouses you, I firmly believe in yr power to utter a blast of old time strength & race. The trouble is you are not deeply moved by anything in these peaceful days. Take yr time & write when the occasion serves, even if years hence." For Bucke's response, see Whitman's June 23, 1890 letter to Bucke. [back]

5. Thirty-one poems from Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

7. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. [back]

8. See the letters from Robert Ingersoll to Whitman of June 5 and June 16, 1890[back]

9. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

10. 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]

11. Bucke's letter of this date is evidently lost. [back]

12. Kennedy's wife was Adeline Ella Lincoln (d. 1923) of Cambridge, Massachusetts. They married on June 17, 1883. The couple's son Mortimer died in infancy. [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.