Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 30 October 1891

Date: October 30, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03168

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 notes: The annotation, "W.S. Kennedy," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "see notes Nov. 18 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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

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Oct. 30. 91

Dear Walt Whitman's

Paper rec'd. with its saddening news of yr increased weakness. I am whirled on in such a melee of work (exhausting driving work) that I have no time to write or say anything agreeable I fear. I look back with feeling of pleasure of the deepest nature to those divine days I spent in companionship of the noblest of books L. of G. & those happy letters back & forth between you & me.

Recently someone in Transcript2 noticed that jackass Bartlett in his "Familiar Quotations" had not a line of Walt W. I went over yr books espec. Song of Myself & culled a list of phrases & lines that I offered [to prove the?] classic & current coin already. However, Clement still holds [it?] in reserve. Will let you know when it appears. wh. may be in a year. After all that your sublime & haughty songs are not lozenge poetry for silly boys & girls is something to be proud of. It is a book separate "the words of my book nothing, the [trend] of it everything3

Sadikichi4 seems to be in St. Louis.—writing.

O'Connor's5 book is out I see.—"Brazen Android"6

Write dear Walt as of old when spirit moves you & so will I.

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 | OCT | 91 | 1891 | MASS.; CAMDEN, N.J. | NOV 2 | 6 AM | 91 | REC'D. [back]

2. Kennedy was at the time on the staff of the Boston Transcript[back]

3. Kennedy is alluding to Whitman's line in the poem "Shut Not Your Doors": "The words of my book nothing, the drift of it every thing." [back]

4. Carl Sadakichi Hartmann (ca. 1867–1944) was an art historian and early critic of photography as an art form. He visited Whitman in Camden in the 1880s and published his conversations with the poet in 1895. Generally unpopular with other supporters of the poet, he was known during his years in Greenwich Village as the "King of Bohemia." For more information about Hartmann, see John F. Roche, "Hartmann, C. Sadakichi (ca. 1867–1944)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Three of William D. O'Connor's stories with a preface by Whitman were published in Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1892). Whitman's preface was also included in Good-Bye My Fancy (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891), 51–53. [back]


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