Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 8 August 1890

Date: August 8, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: upa.00095

Source: Walt Whitman Collection, 1842–1957, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania. 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 created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Related item: Whitman composed this letter on the back of an envelope addressed to him from an unidentified correspondent and postmarked "Pottsville, PA."

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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noon Aug: 8 '90

Yr's of 6th just comes2—(are you not a little blue?3—it's no use—one has to obey orders & do duty & face the music till he gets formal dismissal—& may as well come up to the scratch smiling)—I am still getting along thro the hot season—have things pretty favorable here in my shanty with ventilation (night & day) frequent bathing, light meals & lassaiz faire—all wh' makes it better for me in my utterly helpless condition to tug it out here in Mickle street, than transfer myself some where to sea-shore or mountain—It is not for a long time any how—then Elias Hicks's4 saying to my father "Walter, it is not so much where thee lives, but how thee lives." Symonds's5 new vols: ["Essays, Speculative & Suggestive"]6 are deep, heavy, bookish, infer not things or thoughts at first hand but at third or fourth hand, & after the college point of view—the essays are valuable, but appear to me to be elderly chestnuts mainly—Horace7 is preparing an article ab't me for N E Magazine8—I make dabs with the little 2d Annex9 & licking it in shape—I made my breakfast on bread, honey & a cup of coffee—a cloudy drizzling day, pleasant—Love to you & the frau10

Walt Whitman

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 [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy 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. This letter is addressed: Sloane Kennedy | Belmont | Mass:. It is postmarked: CAMDEN, N.J. | AUG 8 | 6P | 90; PHILADELPHIA, P.A. | TRANSIT | AUG | 8 | [illegible] | 1890; BELMONT, MASS. | REC'D. | 5 [illegible] | 19. [back]

2. Whitman is referring to Kennedy's letter of August 6, 1890[back]

3. In his August 6, 1890, letter Kennedy had mentioned his "curious distaste for writing—at present." He also said: "Dr. B[ucke] & I will bring out my book on you sometime, perhaps sooner than we any of us know. I wrote fr. London Canada to Fredk. Wilson, peremptorily ordering him to return my MS to me." This manuscript was the first of several drafts of what eventually became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (London: Alexander Gardner, 1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (West Yarmouth, Massachusetts: The Stonecroft Press, 1926). On August 12, Kennedy denied he was "a bit blue. Am perennially happy & contented." [back]

4. Elias Hicks (1748–1830) was a traveling Quaker preacher and anti-slavery activist from Long Island, New York. Whitman's long essay on Hicks appeared in November Boughs. For more on Hicks, see Henry Watson Wilbur, The Life and Labors of Elias Hicks (Philadelphia: Friends' General Conference Advancement Committee, 1910). [back]

5. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Whitman is referring to John Addington Symonds's Essays Speculative and Suggestive (London: Chapman and Hall, 1890). The chapter on "Democratic Art" (pp. 237–268) is mainly inspired by Whitman. Whitman commented on Symonds' chapter in "An Old Man's Rejoinder," which appeared in The Critic 17 (August 16, 1890), 85–86. Whitman's "Rejoinder" was also reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (Prose Works 1892, Volume 2: Collect and Other Prose, ed. Floyd Stovall [New York: New York University Press, 1964], 655–658). In his August 20–22 letter, Bucke remarked: "The whole article is 'flat, stale and unprofitable'—a saw dust chewing business—dealing with the hull, the shell, the superfices, never for one line, one flash of insight penetrating to the heart of the business." On August 24, Whitman observed: "you are a little more severe on Symonds than I sh'd be." [back]

7. 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 late 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]

8. Horace Traubel's article "Walt Whitman at Date" was published in the New England Magazine 4 (May 1891): 275–292. [back]

9. 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" in 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]

10. 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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