Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 18 March 1889

Date: March 18, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02994

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, Caterina Bernardini, Ian Faith, Ashlyn Stewart, and Stephanie Blalock



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You dear (young) old F'ellow:1

I was just feeling to-day a lack in my soul—a gap—an idea that you had not been heard from—when—comes yr card.2 I had no idea O'C.3 wd have 'fits' It seems terrible. The letter I sent Burrougs4 contained so cheery news that this last is an unpleasant surprise. Well this is the worst month in the year. Let us wait patiently for god's (nature's) grass & dandelions again. Death is no evil to good or bad.

I am reading Browning5 still; manage to extract considerable from his rubbish; he is a great fellow for subtle soul-searchings, & delvings in the past. But I can't heartily love any except our kind of men—cheerful—the Scotts, George [Sa?]nds,6 Homer, Emerson,7 &c. Browning deals in the sad & horrible almost— [illegible]

By the way, I am feeling deep sympahty for poor Frank Sanborn.8 I suppose you saw the notice that his son—a promising young fellow, 23 or so, committed suicide. Do you suppose it was love & money combined—the cause—? He was writing a little for Springfield Republican. Sanborn père had a col. in that paper about him, giving extracts from his verse-poems. They were real pretty, unusually good, in some respects. Sanborn seems to be having a tough time these days. May his philosophy & well stored literary mind stand him well now!

Burroughs—has he gone into burrow? In one of his dark mumpish spells, think you? He don't answer me. I sent him a ply of new kind of wheat coffee some months ago & got a good letter. I send him a Transcript occasionally, with horticultural report. (I can't realize that you have been shut up there so long. You are a hero. I tho't you never cd stand it not to get to nature. Keep heart.)

I continue at my typographical business

Hope I hear from Paisley9 in a fortnight

goodnight & love—gloomy Sunday yesterday (outside)
W. S. Kennedy
March 18, '89 Belmont


Correspondent:
William Sloane Kennedy, biographer, editor, and critic, was one of Whitman's most devoted friends and admirers. Kennedy first met Whitman in Philadelphia in 1880 while working on the staff of the American. He soon became a frequent correspondent and visitor to Whitman's Camden, New Jersey, home, a constant contributor of small gifts, and the author of several essays and newspaper articles in praise of Whitman. 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: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: North Cambridge, Sta. | Mar | 19 | 8AM | [illegible]. There is what what is likely a Camden postmark that is only partially legible. It reads as follows: MAR | 20 | 10AM | [illegible] | Rec'd. [back]

2. Kennedy is likely referring to Whitman's letter of March 17, 1888[back]

3. 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]

4. 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]

5. Robert Browning (1812–1889) was an English poet known for his dramatic monologues, including "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess." Browning was also the husband of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861). [back]

6. George Sand was the pen name of the French socialist and novelist Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (1804–1876). She wore men's clothing and throughout her life tested gender boundaries in ways that many at the time saw as scandalous. Her novels were extremely popular, and Whitman particularly loved Consuelo and The Countess of Rudolstadt[back]

7. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was an American poet and essayist who began the Transcendentalist movement with his 1836 essay Nature. On November 30, 1868, Whitman informed Ralph Waldo Emerson that "Proud Music of the Storm" was "put in type for my own convenience, and to ensure greater correctness." He asked Emerson to take the poem to James T. Fields, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, who promptly accepted it and published it in February 1869. For more on Emerson, see Jerome Loving, "Emerson, Ralph Waldo [1809–1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. 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]

9. Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) of Paisley, Scotland, was a publisher who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman; he ultimately published William Sloane Kennedy's Reminiscences of Walt Whitman in 1896 after a long and contentious battle with Kennedy over editing the book. Gardner published and co-edited the Scottish Review from 1882 to 1886. [back]


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