Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 9 September 1888

Date: September 9, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02956

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

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

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University Press,
Press Revise Room
Sept. 9, 88

Dear W.W.

The precious volume 'November Boughs'1 arrived last night and drew forth an exclamation of delight from me as I untied the package at the supper table. The portrait was a real surprise, & I value very highly the portrait of E. Hicks,2 a remarkable face. A [god-smit?] man of the old heroic stamp.

The mélange of the vol. exhibits a range & strength that I had not tho't to be quite so marked, when I read the pieces separately as they came out. The very mass is wonderful, considering that they emanate from a semi-invalid.

I thank you deeply for the beautiful vol. & for its inscription, & the good nice Sunday-afternoon letter. I devoured the new poems & prose pieces bit by bit, stealhily to-day, having the book (disguised by cover) in my drawer, whence I took it out to read from time to time.

I notice a deepening shade of the sombre & of pathos throughout the latest bits of poetry. But it is better so: it completes your picture of a typical man—a man complete, clear through the "opiate" shades to the gates of death.

The plaster bust I still hold in trust. Mr. Sanborn3 accepted it for the Concord School.4 But as the School is closed for the following year, I suppose he neglects to call for it. I shall take occasion to speak of it (indirectly) some day, & follow his directions. The bust shall surely go into some gallery, or I'll be busted myself.

I hope to write a notice of the 'Boughs' for the Transcript.

affectionately & admiringly
your friend
W. S. Kennedy

Sorry indeed to hear of O'Connor's5 bad state. We all need out'o'door life continually.

P.S. I am so sorry to hear so much of your bad digestion & lethargy. Don't you think you ought to take a railway sleeper for Florida this winter?

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. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Elias Hicks (1748–1830) was a Quaker from Long Island whose controversial teachings led to a split in the Religious Society of Friends in 1827, a division that was not resolved until 1955. Hicks had been a friend of Whitman's father and grandfather, and Whitman himself was a supporter and proponent of Hicks's teachings, writing about him in Specimen Days (see "Reminiscence of Elias Hicks") and November Boughs (see "Elias Hicks, Notes (such as they are)"). For more on Hicks and his influence on Whitman, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 37–39. [back]

3. Franklin B. Sanborn (1831–1917) was an abolitionist and a friend of John Brown. In 1860, when he was tried in Boston because of his refusal to testify before a committee of the U.S. Senate, Whitman was in the courtroom (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: Macmillan, 1955], 242). He reviewed Drum-Taps in the Boston Commonwealth on February 24, 1866. He was editor of the Springfield Republican from 1868 to 1872, and was the author of books dealing with his friends Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. "A Visit to the Good Gray Poet" appeared without Sanborn's name in the Springfield Republican on April 19, 1876. For more on Sanborn, see Linda K. Walker, "Sanborn, Franklin Benjamin (Frank) (1831–1917)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. The Concord School of Philosophy was a series of lectures held at Amos Bronson Alcott's Hillside Chapel in Concord, Massachusetts, from 1879 to 1888. [back]

5. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. 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]


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