Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 10 November 1890

Date: November 10, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03097

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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Belmont Mass
Nov 10 '90.

Dear W. W—

You are always "so confoundedly in the right" that one's words—if any are spoken—must be monotonously words of praise. Your political note—printed today in "jottings" pleased me immensely. I voted for the Independent candidates here in Mass. & Editor Clement,1 Aldrich2 & I held a glorification over the result throughout the country, I cheered aloud when I heard it.3 It shows how true a man you are that old age even can never catch yr nimble wits in a rut (chinese) but you adhere still to principle & the ideal right. We printed a selection fr. yr N. Am. R.4 article5 (Miss Smith6 editorial dept writing a few words with it). Clement said to me after the election,7 "Well the country is worth living for now." I think we did not realize what a weight of depression of spirits lay on our minds before. Thank ye for the "Truth-Seeker."8 Bucke9 must be cranky for the N. A. Rev. art. is one of the best you ever penned—ripe in wisdom & sound as a shell bark hickory nut.

—Till we meet
W. S. K.


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. 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. [back]

2. Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836–1907) was associated with Henry Clapp's Saturday Press from 1858 until its final number in 1860; see Ferris Greenslet, the Life of Thomas Bailey Aldrich (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Co., 1908), 37–49. In 1865 Aldrich left New York and returned to Boston—to gentility and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Aldrich was editor of the Atlantic Monthly from 1881 to 1890. For Aldrich's opinion of Whitman's poetry, see Greenslet, 138–139. [back]

3. The 1890 election 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. The Populist Party had some surprising successes, electing two U.S. Senators. In his November 8, 1890, letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke, Whitman wrote that he was "tickled hugely with the election." [back]

4. 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 (1852–1915) became owner and editor. At this time, William Rideing (1853–1918) was assistant editor of the magazine. [back]

5. 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 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]

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

7. The 1890 election 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. The Populist Party had some surprising successes, electing two U.S. Senators. In his November 8, 1890, letter to Richard Maurice Bucke, Whitman wrote that he was "tickled hugely with the election." [back]

8. Truth Seeker was a Free Thought Periodical founded and published by DeRobigne Mortimer Bennett (1818—1882). [back]

9. 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]


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