Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 12 November 1890

Date: November 12, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03096

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

page image
image 1
page image
image 2

Nov: 12 '901

Yr's rec'd & welcomed2—All goes on ab't same—I have grip & bladder trouble & permanent belly ache—rainy & dark here—Tom Harned's3 mother4 is dead 65 yr's old cancer buried to-morrow noon f'm T's house—Geo. Stafford the father5 has had a very critical spell of paralysis but is over it & getting along. Did I tell you I had sent off an article "National Literature"6 to the NA Rev?7 (It may not suit them) I saw my ¶ abt the "banditti combine" in paper8—I am having bound up 100 more of the big book complete works9 & 200 folded complete ready in sheets—(printed 600 & have got rid of 300)—am licking the 2d & last annex10 into shape—shall put a prose budget (bits, essays, speeches &c) in an appendix—possibly print it spring or before

God bless you & frau11
Walt Whitman

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 wrote this letter on the verso of Department of Justice stationery. [back]

2. Whitman is referring to Kennedy's letter of November 10, 1890[back]

3. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

4. Harriet B. Parkerson Harned (1824–1890) was born in Norwich, England, the third of five sisters. She married Henry Shell Harned (1818–1906) in 1848. The couple had at least four sons: Henry Harned (1849–1934), Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921), Frank Harned (1855–after 1930), and John Frederick Harned (1856–1929). Harriet Harned is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey. Thomas B. Harned, one of Whitman's literary exectuors, said of his mother: "She was a great woman, with unusual mental qualities. In many respects she was the ablest woman I have ever known." For more information about her, see Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford, CT: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

5. George Stafford (1827–1892) was the father of Harry Stafford, a young man whom Whitman befriended in 1876 in Camden. Harry's parents, George and Susan Stafford, were tenant farmers at White Horse Farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey, where Whitman visited them on several occasions. For more on Whitman and the Staffords, see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Whitman is referring to his essay "Have We a National Literature?," which was published in The North American Review 125 (March 1891), 332–338. [back]

7. The North American Review was the first literary magazine in the United States. The journalist Charles Allen Thorndike Rice (1851–1889) edited and published the magazine in New York from 1876 until his death. After Rice's death, Lloyd Bryce became owner and editor, and he held these positions at the time of Rideing's letter. [back]

8. In his book Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (London: Alexander Gardener, 1896), Kennedy writes that on November 8, 1890, Whitman sent a brief memorandum to the Boston Transcript office for publication. Whitman's "'jotting'" commented on the election of 1890, which was held during Republican President Benjamin Harrison's term of office (Harrison served from 1889–1893). Republicans suffered major losses in the election, with Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives, but with Republicans hanging onto control of the Senate. Kennedy quoted Whitman's piece in full: "Walt Whitman likes the result of the late election, and wants more of it. Though an old Republican, he calls the party in power 'the banditti combine,' and says, if it were not for American elections as safety-valves, we should likely have a French Revolution here and Reign of Terror" (39). In this letter, Whitman is referring to the publication of this piece in the Boston Transcript[back]

9. 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 (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]

10. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy" in 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]

11. Kennedy had married Adeline Ella Lincoln (d. 1923) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June 17, 1883. [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.