Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 13 December 1888

Date: December 13, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07680

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.

Related item: Whitman wrote a postscript to his December 13, 1888, letter to Richard Maurice Bucke on the back of this letter from Kennedy and then sent this letter as an enclosure to Bucke. See loc.07681.

Contributors to digital file: Brandon James O'Neil, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Cambridge. Mass
Dec. 13. '88

Dear Walt: W.

Did you ever write a production called "Solitude"? It is credited to you by a pencil-script line in the Harvard College Library. I don't believe it is yrs, but that it is an imitation.1 It is unbound, about 2/3 the size of this sheet, contains 16 pp. & has written on it in pencil "Presented [to?] the Library by Prof. Jas: Russell Lowell,2 1860. Sept 26." It is divided into two sections, with running titles "Chamber," & "Street," & begins

"O! this everlasting contact with men;
This agony of a continual presence."

I shd like to get yr written word on it.

W. S. K.

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. Whitman confirmed Kennedy's suspicions that "Solitude" was not one of the poet's works. See the letter from Whitman to Kennedy on December 18, 1888. He also denied authoring the poem in the postscript of a December 13, 1888, letter to Richard Maurice Bucke. Whitman sent this inquiry from Kennedy as an enclosure in his letter to Bucke. [back]

2. James Russell Lowell (1819–1891) was a poet, literary and social critic, abolitionist, editor, Harvard professor, and diplomat (Brendan A. Rapple, "James Russell Lowell", American Travel Writers, 1850–1915 [Detroit: Gale, 1998], 247–254). [back]


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