Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 27 October 1889

Date: October 27, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03053

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 note: The annotation, "over," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Oct 27 '892

To Walt Whitman

I am immensely pleased (tickled) with the result of my little Wifekin Dame Kennedy's3 visit to you. She has read yr books & Bucke's4 ever since she has returned. She was finally converted by the impression made by your personal presence. Says she felt that strange thrill (caused by yr great magnetism) that so many others have felt. She wrote to-day a tremendous arraingment of the Leslie [Nutler?]5 I told you of. She hauled him over the coals finely. I rubbed my hands in glee after quoting some of the good great fellows (in England & America) who stand up for W. W. & love him she says, "Thoreau6 thinks he is a great fellow, & I think so, too." She says, "I saw with my own eyes, his nobility & manners," &c. She thoroughly understands and approves yr Children of Adam poems, too! Sees their noble purpose.

She doesn't need you so much as I did, though, for she has always been a liberated spirit. Her father & grandfather were deists.

I tell you she's a rare little soul, I wish you knew how keenly she pierces to the heart of shams & humbugs. Yet generous enough to forgive everybody. Tears spring to her eyes at the recital of some noble heroic deed. All unfortunates flock to her.


Just begun to rain. The wooded hills & farmstead slopes give grand spreads of dull-glowing brown; not bright but rich-subdued. Have you had any new cider yet. I "hant."

W. S. Kennedy.

Mond. morn Rainbow in West at 6 o'c, glorious sunshine, fresh dew warm-southern wind.7

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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It postmarked: Belmont | Oct | 28 | Mass.; Camden, N. J. | Oct | [illegible] | 9am | 1889 | Rec'd. [back]

2. Whitman enclosed this letter from Kennedy with his October 30, 1889, letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke. [back]

3. Kennedy had married Adeline Ella Lincoln (d. 1923) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June 17, 1883. The couple's son Mortimer died in infancy. [back]

4. 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]

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

6. Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) was an American author, poet, and abolitionist best known for writing Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854) and Civil Disobedience (1849). He was a contemporary of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thoreau, see Susan L. Roberson, "Thoreau, Henry David [1817–1862]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. This postscript appears on the back of the envelope. [back]


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