Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 8 April 1889

Date: April 8, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02996

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, and Stephanie Blalock

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Belmont Mass
April 8 89

Dear W. W.

With yr welcome card came to-night a letter fr. Gardner of Paisley,1 accepting my MS. "Walt Whitman the Poet of Humanity." He is going to pub. in 2 vols. Is evidently enthusiastic. The poltroon, however,(!) wants me to cut out the censor's list of objectionable passages. I don't really know that they are essential,—guess I'd better let him. I suppose his idea is that people will buy L. of G. more if they are not given the passages in question in my book. He bites hard—says "it wd be a vast pity if the book were to fall through," owing to my obstinacy I suppose he means. I shall satisfy him. Have written him to leave those out.

I too have a terrific cold in head. Am deaf in one ear temporarily, through sitting by open window (necessarily) where I work. But it is nothing. Wax in ear only.

We are having house painted. Do hope you will get over that cold, dear Walt. Thank you for the news fr. O'C.2 the Transcripts3 are so thin I am ashamed to send 'em half the time. But it is little trouble, & you can throw them on the floor when you get sick of em. Remembrances to Traubel4 &c. It does one good to think of Dr. Bucke.5 One well man at least, ha, ha, thank God for 'em those hearty "fellers." I take great delight in dogs for same reason.

W. S. Kennedy

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).


1. 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]

2. 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]

3. Kennedy and others published a number of short pieces on Whitman in the Boston Evening Transcript in 1888, and Kennedy sent copies to Whitman. [back]

4. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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]


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