Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 16 February 1891

Date: February 16, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: med.00932

Source: The location of this manuscript is unknown. Edwin Haviland Miller derives his transcription from William Sloane Kennedy's Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (London: Alexander Gardner, 1896), 67. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:166. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock

Feb. 16.

Terrible headache.1

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. Judging from Kennedy's reply on [February] 18 to the now-lost complete text of his letter, Whitman must have referred in this note to the book The New Spirit (London: George Bell and Sons, 1890) by Havelock Ellis (1859–1939), a physician and pioneer in the study of human sexuality. Ellis devoted a chapter of the book to Whitman. Kennedy concluded his letter: "Love unlimited fr. yr constant lover & friend. | W.S.K." Whitman also mentioned the book in his February 16, 1891, letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke. [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.