Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 20 October 1888

Date: October 20, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02961

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: Jeannette Schollaert, Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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Belmont Mass
Oct 20 '88

My dear W.W.

Your good letter (so kind of you to remember me in my loneliness of grim work) rec'd this Eve.1 Mrs K.2 is in Boston at a Symphony Concert and a precious ½ hour for my soul being at my disposal I feel a strong inner impulse to pour out here in the evening solitude, my heart to you in a genuine heart-letter of affection, welling up out of the of the deeps you long ago touched as no other ever did or can. Dear friend whom I have for so long admired, do you not feel that all is well with you & the great cause of freedom for which you have laid down yr life? I do. I feel somehow that the future is going to be with you, with us. Humanity is sweeping on into the larger light. To we who have drank at all fountains of literature, the world over, & climbed the lonely peaks of thought in every land & age, your Leaves of Grass still towers up above everything else in grand aspiration, right philosophy, & the heart beats of true liberty. Hugo3 does not satisfy, he saddens & depresses me. He is a giant of despair, the limner of scélerats (rascals & beggars chiefly)

You are very kind to offer to send me the new big vol.4 I shall prize it highly. I hope you will pardon the brevity & inadequacy of my notice of "Nov. B."5 in Transcript. I am really ill with hard work—nerves trembling, eye fluttering & above all sleepy. The rush of Holiday printing will be over in a month I hope, & then I shall be able to breathe again. We are rolling out 90–100 books at once, & every page must pass under my eye twice & receive my fecit before it goes out,—my guarantee.

Dear Burroughs6 writes me that I had better come & raise fruit,—buy land adjoining him. Perhaps I may some time.

How I wish you were going to live 50 yrs more. You may hold out 25 yrs yet, I shldn't wonder. Live & make us happy, noble friend. You are the only great literatus left alive in the world just at present. We can't spare you. The Infinite must wait.

I must stop & copy a page or so (my daily stint) of my Whitman bibliography (sawdusty job rather, but of some little use I hope). Wife is well as can be & we are cheery & busy. Regards to all friends.

Goodbye once more. I press yr hand,
W.S. Kennedy.

Jo. B. Alder7 has bt my railway book plates.

Baxter8 & Prof Morse9 must be having a jolly nice thing of it in Berlin, "Soft snap"—this globe jogging & junketing is. I feel glad for good solid, moral Baxter. He will enjoy the trip, & I repeat Horace's ode ("Sic Te diva potens Cypri" &c) for his safe return.


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. Kennedy is referring to Whitman's letter of October 19, 1888[back]

2. Kennedy is referring to his wife. He had married Adeline Ella Lincoln (d. 1923) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June 17, 1883. The couple's son Mortimer died in infancy. [back]

3. 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]

4. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, he made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom's Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

5. 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]

6. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

8. Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 105–109. [back]


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