Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 11 February 1891

Date: February 11, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: rut.00031

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), 5:164. 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, Andrew David King, Stephanie Blalock, and Amanda J. Axley




Camden
Feb: 11 '91 near noon

Bright sunlight out—Am feeling fairly—send you a couple slips of the Dutch piece1—it is the best thing of its kind yet—H T[raubel]'s2 paper will be out in four days3 & you can have as many as you want or more slips either—Yes Ernest Rhys4 was married5 in London early last month—If I get letter or details, I will send you—Dr B[ucke]6 is recovered fully7—is well—I see James Redpath8 is dead in NY—Y'r letter9 rec'd10


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. Kennedy published "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman" in Horace Traubel's Conservator (February 1891); it was reprinted in Horace Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned, ed., In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 195–199; the piece ends with Kennedy's speculation: "As for Whitman's imaginative genius, I have sometimes wondered, did it not come in, perchance, through a Welsh crevice? His maternal grandmother was a Williams, and almost all Williamses are Welsh." [back]

2. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. It is unclear what Whitman means by "T's paper." He may be referring to Traubel's "Walt Whitman: Poet and Philosopher and Man" in Lippincott's Magazine of March 1891. Whitman could also mean the February issue of "T's paper" The Conservator, the periodical Traubel founded, edited, and published. [back]

4. 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]

5. Ernest Rhys (1859–1946) married Grace Little (1865–1929) in 1891. Grace was born and grew up in Ireland. As an adult, she moved to London, where she met Rhys at a garden party hosted by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865–1939). Grace went on to work with Rhys at the British Museum and to publish several books, including the novel Mary Dominic (1898) and books of poetry for children. [back]

6. 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]

7. Bucke experienced a series of accidents and bouts with illness in the winter of 1890 and spring of 1891. He dislocated his shoulder as the result of a fall in December 1890. See Bucke's letter of December 25, 1890, to Whitman's biographer and literary executor Horace Traubel, which is reprinted in With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, December 27, 1890. In his April 13, 1891, letter to Whitman, Bucke writes that his foot, which had been sore for a couple of weeks, had become inflamed. He goes on to note that he was "confined" in his room while his foot was "mending," and he also explains that the "grip" he had suffered in late January seemed to have lingering symptoms that he continued to experience. [back]

8. James Redpath (1833–1891), an antislavery activist, journalist, and longtime friend of Whitman, was the author of The Public Life of Capt. John Brown (Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, 1860), a correspondent for the New York Tribune during the war, and the originator of the "Lyceum" lectures. He met Whitman in Boston in 1860, and he remained an enthusiastic admirer; see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, January 4, 1889. He concluded his first letter to Whitman on June 25, 1860: "I love you, Walt! A conquering Brigade will ere long march to the music of your barbaric jawp." Redpath became managing editor of The North American Review in 1886. See also Charles F. Horner, The Life of James Redpath and the Development of the Modern Lyceum, (New York: Barse & Hopkins, 1926); John R. McKivigan, Forgotten Firebrand: James Redpath and the Making of Nineteenth-Century America, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008); and J.R. LeMaster, "Redpath, James [1833–1891]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Whitman may be referring here either to Kennedy's letter dated February 1, 1891 or his letter dated February 10, 1891[back]

10. The transcription of this note in William Sloane Kennedy's book Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (London: Alexander Gardener, 1896) reads as follows: "Send you a couple of slips of the Dutch piece. I like it well. It is the best thing of its kind yet. I have added a few trivialities" (67). [back]


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