Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 29 December 1890

Date: December 29, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00958

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), 5:139–140. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock

P M Dec: 29 '90

Much the same continued—Dr Bucke1 has had a bad fall & dislocated left shoulder—makes rather light of it & will probably be in fair trim before many days—writes yet—J M Stoddart,2 editor Lippincott's Magazine contemplates for the March number a picture of & articles ab't (one or two from) W W—speaks of it as his Whitman (proposed) number3—If it suits, how w'd it do to send him that piece on Dutch points?4—If yes, send it on to him—I am in favor of it—I have just had an order (with the money) f'm Melbourne Australia for four of the big books5—wh' I sent by express ($7.50)—sit here imprison'd in room—Horace Traubel6 faithful daily—(don't know what I c'd do without him)—have sent a cluster of poemets (a page intended) to Scribner's mag7—have not heard yet8—Mrs O'Connor "Brazen Android" MSS for book9 are yet in the hands of the Houghton house y'r city—no decided answer yet—Write a little most every day—read (or rather dawdle) a good deal—Keep a good oak fire—appetite, digestion, sleep &c might be much worse—cold—sun shining out to-day on the white snow10

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. 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]

2. Joseph Marshall Stoddart (1845–1921) published Stoddart's Encyclopaedia America, established Stoddart's Review in 1880, which was merged with The American in 1882, and became the editor of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1886. On January 11, 1882, Whitman received an invitation from Stoddart through J. E. Wainer, one of his associates, to dine with Oscar Wilde on January 14 (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 235n). [back]

3. In March 1891, Lippincott's Magazine published "Old Age Echoes," a cycle of four poems including "Sounds of the Winter," "The Unexpress'd," "Sail Out for Good, Eidólon Yacht," and "After the Argument," accompanied by an extensive autobiographical note called "Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda." Also appearing in that issue was a piece on Whitman by Horace Traubel. [back]

4. William Sloane Kennedy's "Walt Whitman's Dutch Traits" appeared in The Conservator, edited by Horace Traubel, in February, 1891. See Whitman's letter to Kennedy of January 20–21, 1891[back]

5. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." The volume was published by the poet himself in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

6. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919],"Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Scribner's Monthly was an illustrated literary magazine published monthly from 1870 until 1881 by Scribner & Company. Later, in 1881, after Charles Scribner (1854–1930) sold his share of the company, the magazine was relaunched as The Century Magazine[back]

8. On January 23, 1891, Scribner's Monthly rejected four poems that Whitman had submitted ("Old Chants," "Grand Is the Seen," "Death dogs my steps," and "two lines"). [back]

9. Ellen O'Connor hoped to publish a collection of her late husband's fiction. Three of William D. O'Connor's stories with a preface by Whitman were published in Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1892). Whitman's preface was also included in Good-Bye My Fancy (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891), 51–53. [back]

10. Whitman (understandably) did not comment on this exuberant passage in Kennedy's letter of December 28, 1890: "Do you suppose a thousand years fr now people will be celebrating the birth of Walt Whitman as they are now the birth of Christ. If they dont the more fools they. But I hope they won't mythologize you & idiotize themselves as they do over that poor Christ. Why the glorious mystic & genius wd have cut his throat if he had known what idiots people were to be over him." [back]


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