Life & Letters


About this Item

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

Date: April 30, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08465

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 this letter to Kennedy on the back of an April 28, 1891, letter he received from the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke. See loc.04988.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, Marie Ernster, and Stephanie Blalock

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Apr. 30, '91

Dr B1 has been quite under the weather & this is the just rec'd note2 of recovery—Bad days with me have been specially the past ten—at this moment sitting alone here a little chilly—have just had a cup of hot cocoa—The proofs of little "Good-Bye"3 are done, (66) and the pages cast—(if you like careless touches you'll be satisfied with it)—20 pp: go into L of G. as concluding annex—the rest is melanged prose "as if haul'd in by some old fisherman's seine & disburs'd at that"—It will, after the first specific ed'n, be bound as latter part of "November Boughs"4 & go with that—I hear that May NE Magazine5 has a piece ab't me with pictures6—haven't yet seen—HLT7 is well & faithful as ever—as things are I understand perfectly well that definition Epictetus8 gives of the living personality—body "a corpse, dragging a soul hither—thither"9

Walt Whitman

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. 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]

2. Whitman wrote this letter on the back of one he had received from Richard Maurice Bucke two days earlier. Whitman thus included Bucke's letter, dated April 28, 1891, as an enclosure for Kennedy to read. [back]

3. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Whitman's November Boughs—a book of prose and poetry—was published in 1888 by David McKay. The book included a long prefatory essay, "A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads," a collection of sixty short poems under the title "Sands at Seventy," and reprints of several articles already published elsewhere. For more information on November Boughs, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. The New England Magazine was a monthly literary magazine published in Boston. The magazine was issued under the title of The Bay State Monthly from 1884 to 1886. Boston lecturer and writer Edwin Doak Mead (1849–1937) was the edtior of The New England Magazine from 1889 to 1901. [back]

6. Whitman is referring to the May 1891 issue of the New England Magazine, which contained Horace Traubel's article, "Walt Whitman at Date." For Traubel's article, see New England Magazine 4.3 (May 1891), 275–292. The article is also reprinted in the first appendix of the eighth volume of Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden[back]

7. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Epictetus (c. 55–135 AD) was a Greek stoic philosopher and former slave, whose works had a lasting impact on the politics of Marcus Aurelius (121–180 AD), the Roman Emperor. [back]

9. In the early 1890s, Whitman often wrote letters on yellow stationery printed with the following notice from the Boston Evening Transcript that references Epictetus: "From the Boston Eve'g Transcript, May 7, '91.—The Epictetus saying, as given by Walt Whitman in his own quite utterly dilapidated physical case is, a 'little spark of soul dragging a great lummux of corpse-body clumsily to and fro around.'" [back]


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