Life & Letters


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Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy and John Burroughs, 11 February 1888

Date: February 11, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00699

Source: The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:149. 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 on the back of a page from a [February 10], 1888, letter he had received from Richard Maurice Bucke. Bucke's letter was written on stationary from the Ocean View Hotel, which is located in St. Augustine, Florida. Whitman then sent both letters to Kennedy, intending Bucke's letter as an enclosure to Kennedy (Miller 4:149n21). See nyp.00726.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

Feb: 11 '881

My dear friends

I send you Dr Bucke's2 letter from Florida just rec'd with the latest from our dear friend O'Connor3 (tho' I think Dr B's view is ab't as severe & dark as the case will stand)4

Nothing very new or special with me—I am jogging along much the same—down hill no doubt even if slowly—this is the most nipping winter I have ever had—at present am sitting here by the fire in my little front room—have had my late breakfast (I rise late these cold days) of chocolate & buckwheat cakes with quince jelly—feel so-so fair—Ernest Rhys5 is here—was here last evn'g—his lecture, debate ab't, & advocacy of, L of G. last Tuesday evn'g in N Y. seems to have been quite an affair—a success—the leaning of the full dress audience (many ladies) was palpably certainly on our side—quite remarkable—Tho' little Fawcett & Rev. Lloyd had their say against L of G.6 Rhys delivers lecture again here in Phila. next Tuesday evn'g. I still have little bits in NY Herald7

Walt Whitman

This letter is addressed to two close acquaintances of Whitman: William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) and the naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921). For more on these figures, see these entries from Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998): Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)" and Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John (1837–1921) and Ursula (1836–1917)."


1. In the top margin Whitman has written: "send to | John Burroughs | West Park | Ulster County | New York." [back]

2. 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]

3. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Whitman's letter was written on the verso of a February 10, 1888, letter from Richard Maurice Bucke, but the part pertaining to O'Connor is missing. O'Connor noted Bucke's "very pleasant" visit in a letter to Walt Whitman on April 14, 1888 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, April 5, 1889). [back]

5. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. According to the Philadelphia Ledger of February 9, Edgar Fawcett (1847-1904), a minor poet and novelist, "satirized Walt Whitman's poetry. Mr. Fawcett said he had heard it stated that there had been auctioneers' catalogues duller than Walt Whitman's poetry, but he attributed that to partisan bias. Rev. Mr. [William] Lloyd also condemned Whitman's poetry." For Fawcett's vitriolic rant, see Kennedy, The Fight of a Book for the World (West Yarmouth, Mass.: Stonecroft, 1926), 83–84. Also see The New-York Times of February 9, 1888. [back]

7. In late 1887, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., editor of the New York Herald, invited Whitman to contribute a series of poems and prose pieces for the paper. From December 1887 through August 1888, 33 of Whitman's poems appeared. [back]


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