Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 6 November 1889

Date: November 6, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: owu.00013

Source: The Bayley-Whitman Collection, Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, OH . 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.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Nov: 6 PM '891

All fairly well with me—Sunny bright cool weather—y'rs rec'd2—let the MS: lay by then3 & mellow & round & be added to (& be yet rounded if fate ordains)—settle on the few matters you w'd exploit & bend to them & enrich & fortify them & prune (perhaps) the rest, & sort 'em out—I hear f'm Buck4 often, he is well & busy—Was out yesterday (after three weeks' embargo) in my wheel chair5, too cold.

Best respects to Mrs: K6
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. This letter is addressed: Sloane Kennedy | Belmont Mass:. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Nov 6 | 8PM | 89. [back]

2. Kennedy wrote on November 5, 1889: "Fred. Wilson writes me that if he publishes I must pay cost of production. I can't, so I write him to return the MS. to me. I must wait till I get able." Richard Maurice Bucke, to whom Whitman sent Kennedy's note, promised on November 8, 1889 that if the meter paid off he would "ad[vance] the funds required, for I am [most?] anxious to have K's book pub[lished] and so made safe." On January 28, 1891, Kennedy informed Bucke that Wilson had not returned his manuscript: "He has about $200 at least subscribed. I recently wrote him again, asking him if he wd like to bring out the 1st half, & let the Concordance slide." [back]

3. Kennedy's manuscript eventually became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (1926). Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) of Paisley, Scotland, a publisher who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman, ultimately published Reminiscences of Walt Whitman in 1896 after a long and contentious battle with Kennedy over editing the book. [back]

4. 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]

5. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

6. William Sloane Kennedy married Adeline Ella Lincoln of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1883; they lived for forty years in a house they built in Belmont, Massachusetts. [back]


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