Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 15 October 1889

Date: October 15, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03051

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Belmont Mass
Oct 15 '89

Dear Walt Whitman:—

Your beautiful gift1 rec'd.2 I gloated and gloated over it. Such a precious memento! How we ought to love each other, & draw closer & closer in manly friendship—all of us who think & believe the same things of the universe & man. There is a mystery back of the visible, I am confident All matter seems to me instinct w. latent consciousness. Those Platonic remembrances the dim pre-natal consciousness carried over thro' the seminal germ of foetus—very remarkable psychological fact—only showing the delicate character of matter.

Thank you very much for the valuable & remarkably vigorous little Ilias-in-nuce sketch of Whittier.3 It is worth all of my book put together. You make me jealous—you man of great power—you [smite?] home with such resistless power, & graphic-picturesque words. I am going to quote what you say of Whittier. It's all right just what you wd say in print.4

I am having a grand visit from a cousin. A real Western woman.5—A Woodruff (you may have known one kinsman (cousin) Judge Lewis B. Woodruff6 of New York Circuit-Court, highly revered man for his probity & his legal decisions). This Hattie Woodruff McDowell, fr' the Western Reserve is one of those marvellous, energetic Western girls—wrapped in their purity as armor, who go out & locate land, farm their own living, & travel alone around the continent,—& lose no feminine charm. The world can't beat it!

She brought in her trunk some calamus root which she boiled in maple sugar up in Vermont on a sugar ranche of her mother-in-law. I send you a little snip dear dad. Prost! I also send you per express paid a couple of jars of my nice currant jam put up by myself fr fruit raised by me here.

Sorry indeed to hear of increase of that little deafness, & of yr eyes. Keep a grand heart

Hattie brings me a long letter of Jesse R. Grant,7 the General's father, addressed to my great uncle Granger, (Judge William G. of Ohio8 very wealthy now deceased). Jesse came very near marrying my uncle's sister he says. I may publish the letter. So keep mum. Curious to think what wd hv. been the fate of the U.S. if he had married Eliza G.!9

Wilhelm Kennedy
Wm Sloane Kennedy

Hattie brought me a great hunk of pure maple sugar too.10

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. Whitman had a limited pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass printed in honor of his 70th birthday, on May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]

2. Above the first line of Kennedy's letter, Whitman has written a note in blue pencil: "the pocket bk b'd of L of G." [back]

3. Whitman has written above this paragraph in blue pencil: "he is writing a book life of Whittier—ask'd me what I thot of W." John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892) earned fame as a staunch advocate for the abolition of slavery. As a poet, he employed traditional forms and meters, and, not surprisingly, he was not an admirer of Whitman's unconventional prosody. For Whitman's view of Whittier, see the poet's numerous comments throughout the nine volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden (various publishers: 1906–1996) and Whitman's "My Tribute to Four Poets," in Specimen Days (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882–'83), 180–181. [back]

4. Whitman has written at the end of this paragraph in blue pencil: "—don't know ab't this—wasn't indited for publication" [back]

5. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

6. Judge Lewis B. Woodruff (1809–1875) served as the Circuit Judge of the Second Judicial Circuit of the United States (The American Law Review, Volume 10 [Little, Brown, and Company, 1876], 167–168). [back]

7. Jesse Root Grant (1794–1873), Ulysses S. Grant's father, grew up in Ohio and Kentucky, apprenticed to a judge, became a tanner, a farmer, and a leather merchant, and married Hannah Simpson; their first child was the future U.S. president. [back]

8. William S. Granger served as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Richmond, Ohio and helped to establish a bank in Chicago (Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio, Volume 39 [Ohio: The State, 1840], 697–8). [back]

9. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

10. Whitman has written at the bottom of the page in blue pencil: "I rec'd the currants—wh' I eat with my bread & like—also rec'd the calamus caramels" [back]


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