Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, [17 June] 1889

Date: [June 17], 1889

Whitman Archive ID: owu.00024

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.

Related item: Whitman wrote this letter to Kennedy on the back of a letter he received from Richard Maurice Bucke on June 15, 1889. He included the letter from Bucke as an enclosure for Kennedy. See owu.00025.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Caterina Bernardini, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
Monday 9 A M
'89

Am sitting here just ended my breakfast, an egg, some Graham bread & coffee—all wh' I relish'd—rec'd my morning mail, & send you this f'm Dr B1—with my scribbling on back—fine sunny day, moist enough (plenty of rain lately here) & pretty warm—was out last evening (sunset) two hours down to the Delaware shore, high water)—sky & river never look'd finer—was out also at one p m to my friend Harned's2 to drink a bottle of champagne—(lunch, or dinner, but I ate nothing)—So you see I am getting around sort o' in my wheel chair3—Have written a little the last two weeks—& sent off—Some accepted & paid, some rejected—& so we are well in for another summer—I want to get out somewhere (sea side or mountains) but it is a fearful job for me to be moved from my habitat & ways here—As things are I depend on inherited impetus mainly, & humor everything or rather let it go.


Walt Whitman


Superintendent's Office.
Asylum for the Insane,
London, Ont.,
15 June 1889

All goes well with us here. We are all well and flourishing. I am just finishing Romanes "Origin of the Human Faculty"4 the best book I have read for a long time. I have been hoping to hear something definite as to the publication of W.S. Kennedy's5 "W.W."6 but I hear nothing—hope to see K. here before a great while but have not heard from him for so long that do not know whether to expect him or not. Inspector has been here three days—will go East tomorrow—all goes well with meter7 as far as I know but it seems slow work

Love to you
R M Bucke


Correspondent:
William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow 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 [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).

Notes:

1. 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]

2. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

3. 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]

4. Bucke is referring to Mental Evolution in Man, Origin of Human Faculty (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1889) by Canadian evolutionary biologist and Darwin disciple George John Romanes (1848–1894). [back]

5. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow 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 [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). [back]

6. Kennedy worked for many years on a book about Whitman and often sent Whitman sections to review; not until after Whitman's death, in 1896, was his Reminiscences of Walt Whitman published. [back]

7. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]


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