Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 27 December 1889

Date: December 27, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07913

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: On the back of this letter from Kennedy, Whitman wrote a letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke that was dated February 2–3, 1889. See loc.07753.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King and Stephanie Blalock

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Belmont, Mass
Dec 27 '89.

Dear Good Friend.

What does this mean—this solemn cemetery business? And yet it is well. It has a solemn-tragic, solid magnificent resoluteness—a kind of secular range of vision—one might expect fr. Walt Whitman. Down then, climbing sorrow! & let us have it over with. & pass on to hope that the burial business wont be mentioned again for many years. Dont get down-hearted, my boy, say I! We read yr strong verse in November Century.1 Mrs K2 & I think yr poems in old age are just as fine as any of the others—softly suffused with an after-glow flush—dream-like & pensive. I'm afraid a kind of grip has got hold of you this weather! Merry Xmas, dear Walt!

Your toiling friend,
W. S. Kennedy.

Am reading the Century Life of Lincoln in back numbers.3

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's poem "My 71st Year" was published in the November 1889 issue of Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine[back]

2. Kennedy's wife was Adeline Ella Lincoln (d. 1923) of Cambridge, Massachusetts. They married on June 17, 1883. The couple's son Mortimer died in infancy. [back]

3. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, both personal secretaries to Lincoln during the Civil War, co-authored the ten-volume Abraham Lincoln: A History (1890); some of the work was serialized in The Century Magazine beginning in 1886. [back]


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