Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 27 August 1890

Date: August 27, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03078

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: Kirby Little, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
early pm Aug: 27 '90

Yr's rec'd1—the Trans: comes regularly—thanks—enclosed Logan Smith's2 letter3 —Am feeling fairly—writing a little—presents of fruit (have just eaten two nice pears)—have just sold 50 copies folded in sheets (unbound) the big book (complete works)4 & 3 each—wh' quite sets me up—was out last evn'g in wheel chair5—plenty of rain here (rain last night)—get frequent word f'm Dr Bucke6—all well—quite a good run of visitors talkers &c: street cries, hucksters, &c: some fine little children come letters lots, some queer enough—occasionally one yet from former war-soldiers7 (one yesterday f'm California)—two or three days ago one f'm J A Symonds,8 f'm Switzerland—the grip has caught me again—have rather a bad bladder trouble interferes with my rest at night—inertia at times great—spirits bound up tho' soon as the pressure eases any—eyes going out plainly—want to finish & turn out this 2d annex9 while they serve, altho' I guess there is nothing to it—Horace T10 is composing a piece abt me for the N E Magazine11 at their order I believe to come under the name of W W at date—we will see what it amt's too —I am conciliatory ab't it—Horace is very good to me, ever faithful

Yes let the Dutch article12 lie fallow a while—(but there's something special in it)—there I believe I have babbled enough

—love to you & frau13
Walt Whitman


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 letter of August 23, 1890[back]

2. 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]

3. It is uncertain which letter Whitman is referring to here. [back]

4. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," was published by the poet himself—in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days–in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

5. 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]

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. It is uncertain which letter Whitman is referring to here. [back]

8. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Thirty-one poems from Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. 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]

11. Whitman is referring to Horace Traubel's "Walt Whitman at Date," which was published in the New England Magazine 4 (May 1891): 275–292. [back]

12. In a letter to Whitman on August 29,1890, Kennedy suggests publishing a piece in The Critic, entitled "Walt Whitman's Dutch Traits." His "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman" was published in The Conservator 1 (February 1891), 90–91 and reprinted in In Re Walt Whitman, ed. Horace Traubel, et al. (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 195–199. [back]

13. Whitman is referring to Kennedy's wife. Kennedy married Adeline Ella Lincoln (d. 1923) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June 17, 1883. The couple's son Mortimer died in infancy. [back]


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