Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 29 August 1890

Date: August 29, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07833

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 The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:78. 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, Ian Faith, Marie Ernster, Paige Wilkinson, Stephanie Blalock, and Amanda J. Axley

noon Aug: 29 '90

Nothing very new—Am pretty well but have the grip again & sore throat & swell'd head—but ate my breakfast & got out last evn'g in wheel chair1 & might be (& doubtless shall be) much worse—

Enclosed I send what I have just scratch'd off ab't the Hollandisk piece2 (I believe that's ab't the best word to nip & print & stick to)—It is quite a theme—quite significant—means a good deal to me & for me—hope the mood will get hold of you one of these times soon—have just heard from Dr B[ucke],3 all well—I am sitting here as usual in my den—fine sunshiny day & cool enough—

God bless you
Walt Whitman

I sh'd suggest the Critic for the Hollandisk piece—"Walt Whitman's Dutch traits" is a good name—Of course rambly & careless—like y'r little Quaker piece4—not thinking of getting it all in by a long shot—but a few little hints & seed-facts of the Matter5

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. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

2. William Sloane Kennedy's "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman" was published in The Conservator 1 (February 1891), 90–91. It was reprinted in In Re Walt Whitman, ed. Horace Traubel, et al. (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 195–199. [back]

3. 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]

4. William Sloane Kennedy, "Quaker Traits of Walt Whitman," in In Re Walt Whitman, ed. Horace Traubel, et al. (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 213–214. [back]

5. On September 10, Kennedy informed Whitman that his "racy bit of work" was now in the hands of the editor of the Boston Evening Transcript and that he preferred not to send the piece to The Critic, or, as he put it, "Miss [Jeannette] Gilder and her dilettante sheet." [back]


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