Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 3 February 1891

Date: February 3, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03122

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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Feb: 3 PM '91

The worst item is Dr Bucke's1 bad sickness—see enclosed letter2—have not heard any thing since—am uneasy—

—The proof3 comes & will be carefully & minutely corrected—some slips & papers will be sent you—also of what is printed in March forthcoming Lippincotts4

—the trial mulcted B 5005 but the government has assumed the whole thing—B seems to be as wholly, morally, everyway scatheless as I see it

—did I tell you Arthur Stedman6 (dear good invalid, consumptive yn'g fellow) has been to see me?—EC7 is making g't fixings for the8 Johns Hopkins lectures9—I am having bad times—head, gastric & bladder bad—wet & dark to-day—nights middling fair

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. 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]

2. Whitman is referring to a letter from Bucke's daughter, Jessie Clare Bucke (1870–1943), which is not extant. In that letter, she seems to have reported Bucke's illness. See the poet's February 2, 1891, letter to Bucke, which begins with an expression of concern about Jessie Clare's letter. [back]

3. Whitman is referring to proofs of Kennedy's article "Walt Whitman's Dutch Traits." Horace Traubel published the article in The Conservator 1 (February 1891): 90–91. It was reprinted in In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), ed. Horace L. Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned, 195–199. [back]

4. In March 1891, Lippincott's Magazine published "Old Age Echoes," a cycle of four poems including "Sounds of the Winter," "The Unexpress'd," "Sail Out for Good, Eidólon Yacht," and "After the Argument." Also appearing in that issue was an autobiographical prose essay by Whitman ("Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda") and another piece on Whitman by the poet's biographer Horace Traubel. [back]

5. 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]

6. Arthur Stedman (1859–1908) was the son of the prominent critic, editor, and poet Edmund Clarence Stedman. Arthur was an editor at Mark Twain's publishing house, Charles L. Webster. In 1892, he brought out his own editions of Whitman's Selected Poems and a selection of prose writings entitled Autobiographia[back]

7. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. In the holograph, "his" appears to have been written just about "the." [back]

9. Edmund Clarence Stedman lectured on "The Nature and Elements of Poetry" as part of his Percy Trumbull Memorial Lectureship of Poetry at Johns Hopkins University in 1891; Whitman is mentioned in the lectures several times. The lectures were later published by Houghton, Mifflin. [back]


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