Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 10 March 1887

Date: March 10, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: med.00755

Source: The location of this manuscript is unknown. Miller derives his transcription from a transcript of the letter, found in William Sloane Kennedy's Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (London: Alexander Gardner, 1896), 52–53. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:75. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Kevin McMullen, and Stephanie Blalock

March 10, '87.

Yours came this morning with extract from Buchanan's1 book.2 Thank you truly, such things are more help to me than you think. . . . Have just sent off two sets of 1876 ed'n to John Hay,3 of Washington, at his request.4

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. Robert Buchanan (1841–1901), Scottish poet and critic, had lauded Whitman in the Broadway Annual in 1867, and in 1872 praised Whitman but attributed his poor reception in England to the sponsorship of William Michael Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne. See Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England (1934), 79–80, and Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (1955), 445–446. Swinburne's recantation later in 1872 may be partly attributable to Buchanan's injudicious remarks. For more on Buchanan, see Philip W. Leon, "Buchanan, Robert (1841–1901)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Buchanan's A Look Round Literature (1887) contains a chapter on Walt Whitman entitled "The American Socrates," in which he describes Whitman as "the wisest and noblest, the most truly great, of all modern literary men" (345). Buchanan goes on to write, "We have a beautiful singer in Tennyson, and some day it will be among Tennyson's highest honours that he was once named kindly and appreciatively by Whitman" (346). [back]

3. John Hay (1838–1905) was Abraham Lincoln's private secretary and a historian as well as Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt. Hay praised Whitman's "A Death-Sonnet for Custer" (later entitled "From Far Dakota's Cañons") when it appeared in the New York Daily Tribune on July 10, 1876. Whitman sent the 1876 Centennial Edition of Leaves of Grass to Hay on August 1, 1876 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

4. Hay acknowledged receipt of the books on March 12, 1887 and sent the poet $30 as thanks for a copy of "O Captain! My Captain!" that Whitman copied by hand and sent along with the books to the historian. [back]


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