Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 28 May 1890

Date: May 28, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: sta.00003

Source: Stanford University. 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 The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Contributors to digital file: Ian Faith, Ryan Furlong, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden1
Evn'g May 28 '90

Get out doors a little most every day—but to-day is one of my grip seizures & I am ill. Dr Bucke2 is still here (is in Washington these two days)—The boys are to have the birth-day supper3 Saturday Evn'g next—just now it looks suspicious ab't my getting there—


W W


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. This postcard is addressed: Sloane Kennedy | Belmont Mass:. It is postmarked: CAMDEN, N.J. | MAY 28 | 90. [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. In honor of Whitman's 71st birthday, his friends gave him a birthday dinner on May 31, 1890, at Reisser's Restaurant in Philadelphia. The main speaker was Col. Robert G. Ingersoll, and there were also speeches by the physicians Richard Maurice Bucke and Silas Weir Mitchell. The Camden Daily Post article "Ingersoll's Speech" of June 2, 1890, was written by Whitman himself and was reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (Prose Works, 1892, ed. Floyd Stovall, 2 vols. [New York: New York University Press: 1963–1964], 686–687). "Honors to the Poet" appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, June 1, 1890. See also the notes on Whitman's birthday party in the poet's June 4, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]


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