Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 28 December 1890

Date: December 28, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03113

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, "WaltWhitman | see notes Jan 5, 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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Belmont Mass
Dec 28. '90

Merry Christmas, dear Friend, & a happy New Year!—from frau1 and me.

She is sending Xmas presents, & receiving 'em. I send you a little box of confections2 by Adams Exp.3 with my love. Besides her, you are the only one I have remembered. Sent mine home 2 months ago.

Feel pretty poor this winter; we are scrimping & pinching to try to save a little. Expenses are so great. Tell me what you hd for Xmas. I got an umbrella 3$, nice one. People in Boston were [illegible] over Xmas. Never seen the streets so full of happy folks Our huge snow-storm has congealed into crust & ice this morning. I have been down with a pertinacious cold (bronchial) for 3 weeks. It is too bad you have so many troubles (with the "old shack"). I wish I could bear some of yr pain. I wd. gladly do it.

Do you suppose a thousand years fr now people will be celebrating the birth of Walt Whitman as they are now the birth of Christ? If they don't the more fools they. But I hope they won't mythologize you & idiotize themselves as they do over that poor Christ. Why the glorious mystic & genius wd have cut his throat if he had known what idiots people were to be over him. However he has been an enormous influence for good.

"Peace on Earth good will to men."

By the way have you noticed the curious wing-bone-like things4 the only real angels we know of are wearing on their shoulders? What fragments the average man & the average woman are! The complete homo wd combine them both in perfect musical harmony.

I see in Critic5 (Nov 29 I think) accounts of yr forthcoming book. It pleases me much.

W. S. Kennedy.

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

2. Kennedy occasionally sent Whitman treats that Mrs. Kennedy had made, including "calamus sugar plums." [back]

3. The Adams Express Company was founded in 1854 in New York City and began operations by delivering parcels between Boston and New York. It expanded into one of the most successful express delivery companies in the U.S. [back]

4. Women's fashion in the early 1890s embraced a number of shoulder-enhancing styles. [back]

5. The Critic of November 28, 1890 (p. 282) printed a paragraph about Whitman's forthcoming volume Good-Bye My Fancy and noted that he was writing a "prefatory note" for William Douglas O'Connor's Three Tales; the paragraph also offers details about Whitman's current physical condition. [back]

6. The notes are written in pencil on the verso of the final page of the letter—they appear upside down at the top of the page. [back]


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