Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 18 July 1891

Date: July 18, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: rut.00032

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), 5:228. 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, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
July 18 '91

Bad days & nights with me—neuralgic sick head ache in addition to other ails—Keep up & was out yesterday to my tomb in Harleigh Cemetery1 (will send you a sort of photo soon)—Dr Bucke2 has arrived in Eng:3 & is with the friends at Bolton4 (cablegram yesterday5)—the enc'd: letters are lately f'm Bolton6—Sarrazin7 came back to Paris very sick, but is grown better8— H Traubel9 goes on to Wash'n to see Mrs: O'Connor10 & others anent of a book cont'g O'C's11 splendid life-saving sketches12 (f'm wrecks)—hot weather here five days—am feeling it badly, but getting along better than you w'd think—

Love to you & frau13
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. In his final years, Whitman designed an elaborate granite tomb, which P. Reinhalter & Co. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, built for the poet in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey. The tomb cost $4,000. Whitman covered a portion of these costs with money that his Boston friends had raised so that the poet could purchase a summer cottage; the remaining balance was paid by Whitman's literary executor, Thomas Harned. For more information on the cemetery and Whitman's tomb, see See Geoffrey M. Still, "Harleigh Cemetery," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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. During the months of July and August 1891, Bucke traveled in England in an attempt to establish a foreign market for the gas and fluid meter he was developing with his brother-in-law William Gurd. While in England, Bucke spent time with Dr. John Johnston and James W. Wallace, the co-founders of the Bolton College of Whitman admirers, and visited the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. [back]

4. Bucke gave a detailed account of a welcome reception held in his honor by architect James W. Wallace and the physician John Johnston, both of Bolton, England. See Bucke's July 18, 1891 letter to Whitman. [back]

5. Whitman confirms receiving a July 17, 1891, telegram from the Bolton physician John Johnston regarding Bucke's safe arrival in England. See Whitman's letter to Johnston of July 17, 1891. The telegram has not been located. [back]

6. It is uncertain which letters are being referred to here. [back]

7. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Sarrazin had written to Whitman with news of his recovery and improved health on July 11, 1891[back]

9. 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]

10. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae 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]

11. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). 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]

12. William Douglas O'Connor worked for the United States Lighthouse Board (eventually the Life Saving Service) for many years, becoming Assistant General Superintendent in 1878; his book of nonfiction about lighthouse keepers, Heroes of the Storm, was eventually published in 1904. [back]

13. Whitman is referring to Kennedy's wife. Kennedy married Adeline Ella Lincoln (d. 1923) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June 17, 1883. [back]


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