Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 20–21 January 1891

Date: January 20–21, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03121

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.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Related item: Whitman wrote this letter on the back of a January 10, 1891, letter he received from the editors of the North American Review, which accompanied proofs of Whitman's essay "Have We a National Literature?"

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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Night Jan: 20 '91

Yr's agreeing that H T1 may have the Dutch piece2 to print rec'd3 & I have given him the copy.—the immediately coming paper number for Feb: is all made up but this will be put in type for next & proof sent to you—& in due time some of the papers & prob'y some printed slips (as I have stipulated for some)4 The Lippincott for March will have a personal & old age memoranda article by me,5 & a WW piece by HT—& portrait (might be worse, not much either)—all that's the present program—the Feb: NA Rev. (I suppose) will have a (funny?)6 article by me me headed "American Nat'l Literature7 Is there any such thing or can there ever be?"—then the Youth's Companion8 (y'r city) has accepted & handsomely paid for a wee little poem Ship Ahoy9—So you see the crank is grinding away even in old age—

—Dr Bucke10 has had the annoyance of a suit (small) for slander—ag't him—$500 mulct—I send paper report11 Herbert Gilchrist12 the young English artist comes here—very welcome visits—I am badly under the weather & have been ten days & nights—the main abatements & dykes are shattered & threaten to give out—we will see—At this moment I am sitting up here in my room alone rather late—had my dinner, supper of a slice of toast & cup of tea—quiet & comfortable enough—good fire of oak wood—

Jan: 21 noon—badly enough physically—head, belly & bladder matters all in bad way—am sitting in big chair—toast & egg for breakfast

God bless you & frau13
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). 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).


1. 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]

2. William Sloane Kennedy's "Walt Whitman's Dutch Traits" appeared in The Conservator, edited by Horace Traubel, in February, 1891. See Whitman's letter to Kennedy of January 20–21, 1891[back]

3. See Kennedy's January 19, 1891, letter to Whitman. [back]

4. On February 1, 1891, Kennedy accepted all of Whitman's "emendations" to his article: "We've together hammered out a bit of wrought-iron work of some value. . . . The thing grew upon both of us, as we went on." [back]

5. Joseph Marshall Stoddart, editor of Lippincott's, wrote to Whitman regarding plans to feature a Whitman page in the magazine on October 10, 1890. The March issue of Lippincott's in 1891 (Volume 47, pages 376–389) contained Whitman's portrait as a frontispiece, "Old Age Echoes" (including "Sounds of Winter," "The Unexpress'd," "Sail Out for Good, Eidólon Yacht!" and "After the Argument"), Whitman's "Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda," Horace Traubel's "Walt Whitman: The Poet and Philosopher of Man," and "The Old Man Himself. A Postscript." [back]

6. The question mark appears above the word "funny" in the manuscript. [back]

7. 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]

8. The Youth's Companion, a weekly magazine for families and children, was founded by Nathaniel Willis in 1827. During its more than one-hundred-year run, the magazine published contributions by Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. For more on the Youth's Companion, see Susan Belasco, Youth's Companion[back]

9. Whitman's poem "Ship Ahoy!" was published in the March 12, 1891, issue of the Youth's Companion[back]

10. 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]

11. On January 16, 18, and 22, 1891, Bucke wrote about a court action "for slander by a discharged employee (a young woman)" which had gone against him. The Canadian government decided to support Bucke in appealing the decision. [back]

12. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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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