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). 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. 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]


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