Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 1 February 1889

Date: February 1, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02989

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
Feb: 1 '891

Y'rs of 29th Jan: rec'd & welcom'd as always2—I continue on much the same—the last two days I fancy a little plus—something like strength—have got so when negative favors (to be free from special botherations) quite set me up.

Had my breakfast & relish'd it—three or four hot stew'd oysters, a stout slice of toasted Graham bread, & a mug of coffee—

My housekeeper Mrs: Davis3 is compell'd to be temporarily absent these two days & Ed my nurse4 gets my breakfast & gets it very well.

I get along here without any luxury or any special order, but I am satisfied & comfortable & often bless the Lord & congratulate myself that things are as well with me as they are—that I retain my mentality intact—that I have put my literary stuff in final form—that I have a few (but sufficient) real & competent & determined advocates & understanders & bequeathers (important as much as any thing)—

Cold weather to-day & I keep a good oak fire—At Dr B's5 there has been something of a conflagration—one of the detached dwellings burnt—no loss of life or limb—piles on more labor & delay on Dr however—I write a few lines every two or three days to O'C.6 & send Mrs: O'C7 the Trans's

Enclosed find a proof of y'r condensed translation of Sarrazin8 (I don't mind its hasty, somewhat broken form) wh' read & correct if anything & return to me at once—& I will send you some impressions—I like it well—

Best love to you
Walt Whitman


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. This letter is addressed: Sloane Kennedy | Belmont | Mass:. It is postmarked: Camden | Feb 1 | 89; Belmont, Mass. | [illegible] | Feb | 1888 | Rec'd. [back]

2. See Kennedy's letter to Whitman of January 29, 1889. [back]

3. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

5. 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]

6. 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]

7. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "William Douglas O'Connor," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Whitman is referring to Gabriel Sarrazin's "Poetes modernes de l'Amerique, Walt Whitman," which appeared in La Nouvelle Revue, 52 (May 1, 1888), 164–184. Whitman had asked both Kennedy and Richard Maurice Bucke to make an abstract in English of it (see Whitman's letter to Kennedy of January 22, 1889, and to Bucke of January 27, 1889). Sarrazin's piece is reprinted in an English translation by Harrison S. Morris in In Re (1893, pp. 159–94). Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 609. [back]


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