Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 7–8 September 1889

Date: September 7–8, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03034

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:372–373. 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, Caterina Bernardini, Ryan Furlong, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
1889

Saturday Evn'g Sept: 7—Am having rather bad spells—had one ten or twelve days last of August—but then they ease up quite perceptibly—was easier for five days, & now am passing a rather depress'd time again—probably to be follow'd by a sort of let up—& that seems by long experience the routine of the matter—

Y'r card came to-day1—welcome—Look for to-day's Sept. 7. "Liberty" (Tucker's2 paper) for a very good little memoriam of Wm O'Connor,3 by my young friend Traubel4 here—Mrs: O'Connor5 is still at North Perry, Maine (& if convenient after you have got & read the "Liberty" I speak of, send it to Mrs: O'C—just the place, only, address)—

I hear from Dr Bucke6 often—he is well & busy at his Institution, London, Canada—I hear f'm my friends the Smiths7 and Mrs: Costelloe,8 in Eng:—Did you come across the French book, Sarrazin's,9 yet? "Poetes Anglaise" wh' I told you was out & I have had a copy—(it has been out ever since and is out now)—it seems to be the most determined blow we have had happen to us yet—

Traubel's dinner10 book11 (as I call it)12 is not out, printed yet, but will be very soon—& I will send you one.

Sept. 8—noon—A shade better, easier, to-day—am sitting here by the open window, pretty comfortable—Respects to Baxter13 & all & any of the boys, if you see 'em—the enc: letter to me is f'm Logan Smith,14 son, England—also an old slip song at one of the [wharves?] "circles" here—


W W


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. Whitman is referring to Kennedy's postal card of September 5, 1889[back]

2. Benjamin R. Tucker (1854–1939) was an editor, publisher, and translator. He published Liberty, an anarchist publication, and he was known for his publication of other radical works, including Whitman's Leaves of Grass. On May 25, 1882, Tucker offered to act as Whitman's publisher in order to test the Boston banning of Leaves of Grass (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, September 3, 1888). As editor of Liberty, he followed the Boston controversy closely in editorial comments on May 27, June 10, and July 22. In the July issue he printed an advertisement in which he offered to sell and mail Leaves of Grass to any purchaser, and informed those involved in the Boston banning of Leaves—Massachusetts State District Attorney Oliver Stevens, State Attorney General George Marston, Boston Postmaster Edward Tobey, and anti-vice activist Anthony Comstock, all of whom were mentioned by name—that he was willing to have his offer tested in the courts. On August 19 he commented: "We have offered to meet the enemy, but the enemy declines to be met. . . . We still advertise the book for sale, and sell it openly and rapidly." [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. 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 mid-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. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. 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, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. 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]

7. Whitman had received a letter from Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) on August 13, 1889. Smith, his wife Hannah, and their children were all friends and supporters of Whitman. For more about Smith and his family, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. 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. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. 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). [back]

10. 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]

11. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration on May 31, 1889 in Camden, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]

12. In his letter of June 2, 1889, Whitman proposed this book, which would become Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (1889), to Horace Traubel. [back]

13. Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

14. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was an essayist and literary critic. He was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith, a minister and writer who befriended Whitman, and he was the brother of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, one of Whitman's most avid followers. For more information on Logan, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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