Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 6 February 1891

Date: February 6, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03127

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

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

page image
image 1
page image
image 2

Feb: 6, '91

Dr B2 is better3—is at office & seems all right again—the proof came & piece will be out in ten days or less4—did I tell you that the Scribner man rejected my stuff & sent it back?5—Ab't same as usual with me—(a horrible heavy inertia lassitude)—write often as convenient God bless you & Frau6 & my Boston friends—

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. This postal card is addressed: Sloane Kennedy | Belmont Mass:. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Feb 6 | 430PM | 91. [back]

2. 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]

3. Apparently Bucke's daughter, Jessie Clare Bucke (1870–1943), wrote about her father's illness in a missing letter. On February 4, 1891, Bucke minimized his indisposition: "You see I was not sick—just a little pain and bad cold." [back]

4. 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]

5. Whitman had sent "Old Chants" to Scribner's, which rejected the poem, after Arena had earlier rejected it; "Old Chants" was eventually published in Truth on March 19, 1891. See Whitman's daybook entry of January 24, 1891 in Daybooks and Notebooks, ed. William White [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 2:585. [back]

6. 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]


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.