Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 24 May 1889

Date: May 24, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03014

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Editorial note: The annotation, "9.10 [+] 27 [=] 36.10," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

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

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Dear Walt W:

I send a little birthday offering—5.00 wh. I want you to use for some little comfort—private & personal to yourself. You know you have done much to make a man of me, more than any other being has done, & you have sent me five vols of yr works. So don't hesitate to accept. I am doing well in business just now. Tell Traubel1 that I am glad indeed to hear of the supper2 & will help him all I can.

As soon as the Concord School starts up I must see about the Morse3 bust.

I privately tell you that I don't much fancy public glorifications, & wish the supper cd be private. It wd be so much more agreeable to have no newspaper blatherskiting over it.

W. S. Kennedy

Read4 the Wyatt Eaton5 piece on J. Fr. Millet6 in May Century. He says Millet resembled you in person, & Geo Fuller7 our artist, who, by the way lived next to us here in Belmont

William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 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).


1. 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]

2. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

3. 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]

4. Kennedy has written this postscript at the top of the letter. [back]

5. Wyatt Eaton (1849–1896), an American portrait and figure painter, organized the Society of American Artists in 1877. Whitman met Eaton at a reception given by Richard W. Gilder on June 14; see "A Poet's Recreation," New York Tribune, July 4, and Walt Whitman's Diary in Canada, ed. William Sloane Kennedy (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1904), 54. [back]

6. Jean-François Millet (1814–1875) was a French realist painter and founder of the Barbizon School. He is noted for his depictions of peasant farmers. [back]

7. George Fuller (1822–1884) of Massachusetts was a figure and portrait painter who studied painting with the Boston Artists' Association and the National Academy of Design in New York. He spent time painting in both the southern United States and Europe, and a national exhibition of his works took place at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1884. Some of his artwork currently resides there and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The poet and critic Charles DeKay (1848–1935) contributed an article on "George Fuller, Painter" to the September, 1889 Magazine of Art that compared Fuller and Whitman. Whitman discussed the article with Horace Traubel; see Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, August 22, 1889[back]


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