Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 27 May 1891

Date: May 27, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: rut.00030

Source: Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey . The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:204. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Ryan Furlong, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

Evn'g: May 27 '91

Pretty bad gastric, bladder & catarrhal times continued but might be worse—bowel movement to day, first in a week—Sit up most of the time—one third of the time deathly weak, cannot rise—Splendid short autograph word f'm Tennyson1 anent of birthday2—have sent "Good-Bye"3 to Garland4—(he sent $5. I sent two)—the preparatory all-enclosing continual theory of L of G. is myself, opening myself first to the countless techniques, traditions, samples, items, knowledges, &c: &c: &c: as a fund & interior battery, magazine & identity:sphere, nothing too small to be despised, all welcom'd, to be digested & formulated by my own living personal emotionality, wh' shapes & stamps the L[eaves] birth marks f'm first to last, more than any book known—(it is the volume of human Personality down below every thing else)—The screws have been turn'd down on the clef of "Good-Bye," to keep things low, yet garrulous, perhaps sometimes irascible (Lear like) but quite a different atmosphere f'm the preceding (while the same subject continued)—I have been a little afraid of monotony, but the trend of the invisible wind is mainly the same—all this—Keep all this for your own uses—


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. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

2. See Tennyson's letter to Whitman of May 14 1891[back]

3. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) was an American novelist and autobiographer, known especially for his works about the hardships of farm life in the American Midwest. For his relationship to Whitman, see Thomas K. Dean, "Garland, Hamlin," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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