Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 1 November 1890

Date: November 1, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03091

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, "W. S. Kennedy," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Brandon James O'Neil, Marie Ernster, Stephanie Blalock, and Amanda J. Axley



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Camden
noon Nov: 1 '90

All goes much as usual—eating oysters, pumpkin pie, Graham bread, coffee &c: Send you here with printed slip of "Old Poets"1—(have sent a copy to editor2 Transcript3 and one to Baxter4)—Horace Traubel5 is back (cant tell you how I miss'd him) with glowing acct's of his visit6 & Dr B7 & his ways & character—& of lunatics Canada, Niagara &c: &c: Sh'd you want another slip or two of Old Poets I can furnish you—splendid sunny day here—cold & dry (after rain) am going out now propell'd in wheel chair8—still have the grip & bladder trouble—have an oak fire—sit at present in the heavy arm chair & old wolf-skin on back (this is the third or fourth winter) as formerly—God bless you all


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
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). Apparently Kennedy had 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).

Notes:

1. On October 3, 1890, Whitman had accepted an invitation to write for The North American Review. He sent them "Old Poets," the first of a two-part prose contribution, on October 9. "Old Poets" was published in the November 1890 issue of the magazine, and Whitman's "Have We a National Literature?" was published in the March 1891 issue. [back]

2. Edward Henry Clement (1843–1920) of Chelsea, Massachusetts, began his career as a journalist with the Savannah Daily News in the mid-1860s. He later became the editor of the Boston Transcript, a position that he held for twenty-five years, from 1881 to 1906. [back]

3. The Boston Evening Transcript, founded by Henry Dutton (1796–1869) and James Wentworth in 1830, was a daily evening newspaper in Boston, Massachusetts, published until 1941. [back]

4. 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]

5. 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]

6. Following a lecture event in honor of Whitman at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall on October 21, 1890, Traubel had traveled to Canada with Bucke. Traubel had returned to Camden on October 29th. [back]

7. 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]

8. 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]


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