Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, [22 August 1891]

Date: [August 22, 1891]

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03165

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, "see notes Dec 19 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock

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Sat. morn 6 am1

Dear W.W.

I shall count it a distinguished favor to get the loan of that Bucke2 letter3 anent T. Tenn4 was the bright particular star of my youth & early manhood—is a man who makes this dull earth godlike, & immortality not at all strange. I will sacredly respect yr wish as I mention & will be extremely careful not even to mention it to any dangerous person whatever.

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). 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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: BELMONT | AUG | 22 | 1891 | MASS; CAMDEN,N.J. | AUG | 24 | 6AM | [illegible] | REC'D. [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. At this time, the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke was traveling abroad in England in an attempt to establish a foreign market for the gas and fluid meter he was developing with his brother-in-law William Gurd. During this trip, on August 10, 1891, Bucke sent Whitman a lengthy account of his meeting with the British Poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In an August 20, 1891, letter to Kennedy, Whitman had offered to send the letter to Kennedy to read, after which Whitman directed that it should be returned. [back]

4. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892), among the best-known British poets of the latter half of the nineteenth century, wrote such poems as "Morte d'Arthur," "Ulysses," "The Charge of the Light Brigade," and In Memoriam A.H.H.. In 1850, the same year In Memoriam was published, Tennyson was chosen as the new poet laureate of England, succeeding William Wordsworth. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Walt Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England in a July 12, 1871July 12, 1871, letter, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]


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