Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 11 February 1889

Date: February 11, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07665

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:285–286. 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, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
P M Feb: 11 '89

Much the same subject continued. I am still confined to the room & chair—eat & drink moderately—my meals mostly mutton-broth with bits of the well-stew'd meat & Graham bread & sometimes roasted apples or a cup custard—appetite fair—of course monotonous here (it is getting to be the ninth month)—but I am comparatively comfortable & get along better than you w'd suppose—snowing to-day, half-melting when it falls—

You got the printed slips of the Sarrazin1 tran[slation] I sent?—Dr B[ucke]2 has the magazine—he has been forced to delay his jaunt this way—& now names the 18th inst. to start hither—he may go directly to Wash'n to see O'C[onnor]3—with a possibility of it being further put off—

O'Connor is badly off—worse—& I am much worried ab't him—he is laid up, mainly bed fast, in his house—very bad, at my last acc'ts four days since, from Mrs O'C4

I hear that the German (partial) tran:5 is advertised in the German papers—so we will soon get the book here—& I will send you one when I get some—Pray you don't mind any little proof lapses in the S. trans: (if any)—it is a wonderfully consoling piece to me—coming from so evidently a fully equipt, sharp-eyed, sharp-nosed, sharp-ear'd Parisian Frenchman—running the critical leads the very deepest—& here what he reports—I have rec'd a good long warm flattering letter from Addington Symonds6 from Switzerland with a large photo head7—the best photo I ever saw—

Best love
Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow 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 [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).

Notes:

1. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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. 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]

4. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "William Douglas O'Connor," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Grashalme, the first book-length German translation of Leaves of Grass, by Karl Knortz and Thomas William Hazen Rolleston, was issued by Swiss publisher Jakob Schabelitz in 1889. [back]

6. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Whitman is referring to the letter from Symonds of January 29, 1889, a truly "warm" one that was signed "your true respectful and loving disciple" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, February 10, 1889). The Sarrazin photo is visible in the background of an 1889 photo of Whitman taken by Kuebler Photography. [back]


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