Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 16 May 1889

Date: May 16, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03012

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.

Editorial notes: The annotation, "See notice of W D O'C in Trans'pt May 16. I guess it is by Hurd.," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "See notes May 1889," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Caterina Bernardini, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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May 16. '89.1

Yr paper & card rec'd. [Wife?] and I read the newspaper notice as we were coming up the hill in the evening, we said Hurrah!—when the chair (wheeled)2 was mentioned. I am delighted. This is development, or stage, No 2,—the phaeton3 being No 1. I suppose it seems sort o' humiliating, but you are too glad to get out to care for that. I wish to be remembered especially to "Ed."4 I mean give him my regards. & to Dr. B.5 whose last I shall answer soon

W. S. K.

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. This postal card is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | 328 Mickle | N. Jersey. It has a Boston, Mass. postmark in which only the city and the year of 1889 are legible. It is also postmarked: Camden, N.J. | May | 18 | 1889 | Rec'd. [back]

2. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

3. Whitman had been given a horse and buggy in 1885 as the result of a fund-raising drive by friends. [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. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. 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: 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]

7. Kennedy is referring to an obituary for O'Connor that was written by a man named Hurd (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, May 18, 1889). The author of the obituary may be Charles E. Hurd, the literary editor of the Boston Transcript[back]


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