Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 28 August 1888

Date: August 28, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02950

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.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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My Dear Walter (as poor Emerson wd say)2

I some weeks ago devised a cunning scheme for getting a call, or visit from you in spite of yourself, & at same time putting a couple of hundred dollars into your pocket. Shortly after you had yr sun-stroke I went in & called on O'Reilly,3 & asked him if we cd not manage to call the attention of some good government friend of yrs to the amazing fact that the deserving veteran of the war has never rec'd from an ungrateful country any adequate quid pro quo, for his services. (I thought—there might be some office for you, with nominal services, wh. you might accept)

O'Reilly during the conversation said he wished we could get you on to Boston to lecture or read about October 1st or 5th (say). I took up the idea & having my time at my disposal, I am going to work you up a lecture. Have seen Bartlett (T.H.)4 & only await a letter from you to start me off advertising & printing tickets & seeing the Papyrus5 & other club men, &c &c.

Do you think you will be able to come by that time, my dear friend? I have never heard you either read or lecture & shall be a thousand times repaid for my trouble.

W.S. Kennedy

Thanks for poems (19th Cent) & Theatre. reminiscence piece. "Last of Ebb" is my favorite.6

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 [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy 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 | N. Jersey | 328 | Mickle St. It is postmarked: Belmont | AUG | 28 | MASS.; CAMDEN, N.J. | AUG | 29 | 8AM | 1888 | REC'D. [back]

2. Kennedy is gently mocking Ralph Waldo Emerson's formality. [back]

3. John Boyle O'Reilly (1844–1890) was a fervent Irish patriot who joined the British Army in order to sabotage it. He was arrested and sentenced to be hanged in 1866. Later the decree was altered, and O'Reilly was sent to Australia, where he escaped on an American whaler in 1869. In 1876 he became the coeditor of the Boston Pilot, a position which he held until his death in 1890. See William G. Schofield, Seek for a Hero: The Story of John Boyle O'Reilly (New York: Kennedy, 1956). For more on O'Reilly, see also the letter from Whitman to James R. Osgood of May 8, 1881[back]

4. Truman Howe Bartlett (1835–1923), an instructor in modelling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was characterized by William Vaughan Moody as "a magnificent old goat and man of God . . . passing hours with immortal phrases"; see Hermann Hagedorn, Edwin Arlington Robinson (New York: Macmillan, 1938), 254. Bartlett evidently affected the Whitman pose with his open collar and flowing tie. On June 8, 1883, Bartlett informed Whitman that "the cast of your hand I shall soon send to Paris to be cast in bronze." The plaster cast is in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; a bronze cast is at Yale. Probably Whitman met Bartlett at the poet's close friend Colonel John R. Johnston's home on September 1, 1878 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

5. The Papyrus Club was one of Boston's leading literary clubs. It was founded in 1872 and existed until ca. 1923. [back]

6. Whitman's essay, "The Old Bowery. A Reminiscence of New York Plays and Acting Fifty Years Ago," appeared in November Boughs (1888), along with his "Fancies at Navesink" poems, one of which ("Last of Ebb, and Daylight Waning") Kennedy refers to here. [back]


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