Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 29 March 1888

Date: March 29, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02941

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Ian Faith, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4
page image
image 5
page image
image 6
page image
image 7
page image
image 8

8½ A-M:1
March 29. 88

Dear Walt
(best loved friend)

The enforced infrequency of my gossippy letters turns often to my advantage, since it brings you out in a nice page letter to know why the garrulous voice from Belmont (the cicada) has intermitted its notes. (Just laid my pen down to see to a sick cat I am doctoring: how curious the habit we have of laying a pen down, & forgetting totally where we put it!)

Your Kottabos2 rec'd & letter. Why, yes, I confess I felt a good deal of sympathy for our cranky friend Johnson3 the planter His insinuations as to assumed peccadiloes of yrs were of no importance in my eyes but such things if spoken of to third parties sometimes do mischief. Though, supposing all the things he mentioned were so, (and doubtless some of them were in a measure) they wd not affect a rational man's temper or friendship a jot. But, unfortunately, our fellow-men are far from being rational.

I have written to Tennyson4 asking him (and stating that I of course wrote without the knowledge of any one else) if he wd like to say a few words of you for the appendix to the book. Also wrote to Enrico Nencioni5 (c/o Nuova Anotologia, Rome)6 asking him to send me a statement as to "Walt Whitman in Italy."

I had a long letter fr Charley Eldridge,7 wh. I incorporated partly in the Bibiliog. under head of "1860 edition." He says he finds a few vols. of the fraudulent 1860 ed. in Los Angeles. I cd. find none in Boston recently, although I see my own ed. for wh. I paid 3.00 to Clark here 8 yrs ago in one of the fraudulent ones

I am in despair as to getting any time for intellectual life or correspondence. I work at office 9 hours. I think I must solve the problem by having both wife & I get our chief meal at 6 o'c at resteraunts—she in Boston, & I in Cambridge.

Rhys's8 Chickering Hall lecture being worse than a failure (financially) some of his Back Bay friends have got him up a private lecture in grand style, & passed around the hat to the tune of $200. Chamberlin9 who writes the Listener for the Transcript had Rhys at his home for a month. Rhys drove him frantic, as he did us, & Chamberlin one day disappeared leaving R. with the three children. C's friends find him out; doctor says he is over-worked; send him to Savannah (that is the reason Listener is so brief lately, as you see); C's wife comes home (she was in Chicago) & R. leaves, & goes to the house of Kate Gannett Wells.10 It is a dreadful pity that R. is so on the wrong track as to the ethics of labor,—poor fellow. He will have to face about squarely, & get out of this soon, or he is lost.

I have not much faith in the despatch of F.W. Wilson:11 we must let him drag, I suppose. I have sent him 20 names. He must have a hundred, at least, by this time. Not a written word fr. him since I sent him the 150 circulars. But he is evidently crawling on, tortoise-style.

My dear father-confessor, I feel a strong desire to be clasped closer to yr breast, to know my friend in more intimate personal ways (for I feel that I am worthy of yr richest love & confidence). I am longing to have a few good old style talks on many subjects, & for that purpose am secretly laying by (little by little) a small sum for expenses of a week's visit.

In a week I shall be put into a room to read first proof for six or seven weeks. About the first week in June then, I expect to have a change again, when I shall be able to run down to see you. They are training me up for a permanent reader (corrector of the press).

To-day, having a bad cold, I am staying at home; hence, this letter to you

Give my love to Scovel12 & O'Connor13

I discovered still another flattering reference to you by Nencioni recently in Antologia (in a noble article by him on Hugo's14 "Choses Vues" ("Things Seen").—Well, there, my eye lights on my memorandum of it. Keep it & get it translated by someone, or do it yourself. I have not time to copy out my translation.

affec. as always
W.S. Kennedy


To think that yr 70th birthday is approaching. I had not realized it. I offer my congratulations in advance.


I have the ms. of my "W.W." here, & shall ask Wilson to sign a duplicate contract (in wh. is to be embodied that item about my reading proofs) before I give him the MS.


Am reading again Landor's16 "Examination of Wm Shakspere." Rich!

Cotter Morison's17 "The Service of Man" also lies on my table, trying to get read. It is a remarkable book—good heroic medicine for conventional religionists. Puts the problem in a masterly-clear way. Wide historic grasp, plain speech, & good reasoning powers.

I had a letter from Herbert J. Bathgate18 of England.19

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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: CAMBRIDGE STA | MAR 29 | 2PM | ON MASS; CAMDEN, N.J. | MAR 30 | 10AM | 1888 | REC'D. [back]

2. Kottabos was a miscellany of verse and prose—including translations from Greek and Latin—first published in 1874. The editor was R. Y. Tyrrell, Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and many of the contributors were present and former Trinity men. See Whitman's letter to Kennedy of March 26, 1888, in which Whitman writes that he is sending "the Kottabos from Dublin" with his letter. [back]

3. John Newton Johnson (1832–1904) was a colorful and eccentric self-styled philosopher from rural Alabama. There are about thirty letters from Johnson in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919 (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), but unfortunately there are no replies extant, although Whitman wrote frequently for a period of approximately fifteen years. When Johnson wrote for the first time on August 13, 1874, he was forty-two, "gray as a rat," as he would say in another letter from September 13, 1874: a former Rebel soldier with an income between $300 and $400 annually, though before the war he had been "a slaveholding youthful 'patriarch.'" He informed Whitman in the August 13, 1874, letter that during the past summer he had bought Leaves of Grass and, after a momentary suspicion that the bookseller should be "hung for swindling," he discovered the mystery of Whitman's verse, and "I assure you I was soon 'cavorting' round and asserting that the $3 book was worth $50 if it could not be replaced, (Now Laugh)." He offered either to sell Whitman's poetry and turn over to him all profits or to lend him money. On October 7, 1874, after describing Guntersville, Alabama, a town near his farm from which he often mailed his letters to Whitman, he commented: "Orthodoxy flourishes with the usual lack of flowers or fruit." See also Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: R. G. Badger, 1915), 125–130. [back]

4. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

5. Enrico Nencioni (1837–1896) was an Italian poet and literary critic. His essays (several of them on Whitman) and collaborations with literary magazines such as Fanfulia Sunday and Nuova Antologia significantly contributed to the popularization of English literature in Italy. For more on Nencioni, see Giuliana Pieri, "Enrico Nencioni: An Italian Victorian," Biographies and Autobiographies in Modern Italy, eds. Peter Hainsworth & Martin McLaughlin (Leeds, West Yorkshire: Modern Humanities Research Assiciation, 2007). [back]

6. Nuova Antologia was one of Italy's most respected literary and scientific journals, started in 1866 in Florence, then published in Rome begnning in 1878. [back]

7. Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903) was one half of the Boston-based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who issued the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. In December 1862, on his way to find his injured brother George in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Whitman stopped in Washington and encountered Eldridge, who had become a clerk in the office of the army paymaster, Major Lyman Hapgood. Eldridge eventually obtained a desk for Whitman in Hapgood's office. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge, see David Breckenridge Donlon, "Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903)." [back]

8. 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]

9. Joseph Edgar Chamberlin (1851–1935) wrote "The Listener" column for the Boston Transcript for many years. [back]

10. Kate Gannett Wells (1813–1911) was a philanthropist, writer, educational reformer, and anti-suffragist. She served on the Massachusetts State Board of Education, and she founded the New England Women's Club, the Women's Educational and Industrial Union, the Moral Education Association, and the Association for the Advancement of Women, but she did not believe women should have the right to vote and should devote themselves to moral reform, education, and domestic duties instead of to politics. [back]

11. Frederick W. Wilson was a member of the Glasgow firm of Wilson & McCormick that published the 1883 British edition of Specimen Days and Collect. On March 24, 1888, Frederick W. Wilson informed William Sloane Kennedy, author of Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896), that he was most interested in obtaining subscribers to the projected publication. [back]

12. James Matlock Scovel (1833–1904) began to practice law in Camden in 1856. During the Civil War he was in the New Jersey legislature, and became a colonel in 1863. He campaigned actively for Horace Greeley in 1872, and was a special agent for the U.S. Treasury during Chester Arthur's administration. In the 1870s Whitman frequently went to Scovel's home for Sunday breakfast, as he did on December 2 and 9, 1877 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). For a description of these breakfasts, see Walt Whitman's Diary in Canada, ed. William Sloane Kennedy (Boston: Small, Maynard, 1904), 59–60. For Scovel, see George R. Prowell's The History of Camden County, New Jersey (Philadelphia: L. J. Richards, 1886). [back]

13. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). 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]

14. Victor Hugo (1802–1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist best known for Les Miserables (1862) and Notre-Dame de Paris (1833). For more on Hugo, see Victor Brombert, Victor Hugo and the Visionary Novel (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1984). [back]

15. This note is written on the front of the envelope that contained the letter. [back]

16. Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864) was an English essayist and poet. Kennedy is likely referring to Landor's Citation and Examination of William Shakespeare (London: Saunders & Otley, 1837). [back]

17. James Augustus Cotter Morison (1832–1888) was an English essayist and historian. For more on Morison, see David Amigoni, Victorian Biography: Intellectuals and the Ordering of Discourse (New York: Routledge, 2014). [back]

18. Herbert J. Bathgate was a British author and friend of the art critic John Ruskin. His essay "Ouida" was advertised in the 1881 Trübner & Co. reprint of Whitman's preface to his first edition of Leaves of Grass. Whitman commented on Bathgate later in life: "Bathgate writes genuinely, considerately: he has no affectations" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, January 28, 1889). [back]

19. This note, which Kennedy may have intended as a continuation to his postscript, is written on the back of the envelope that contained the letter. [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.