Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 20 March 1889

Date: March 20, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: uva.00595

Source: Papers of Walt Whitman (MSS 3829), Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, Albert H. Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:305–306. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Caterina Bernardini, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock




328 Mickle Street Camden
P M March 20 '89

Y'rs came in mid-day mail—thanks—Dr B[ucke]1 went back to Canada Monday night—the practical outsetting of the meter enterprise2 collapsed at the last hour—(but it is settled that it is a genuine & valuable invention)—O'C[onnor]3 recuperated from the epileptic fits, & at last acc'ts was in bed very weak, but quite over them, & what could be call'd (mildly) improving—you know he has no use at all of the lower legs (knees to feet) from what appears to be absolute paralysis, abnegation—

The Saturday Review (March 2) has a rather curious hot & cold—I would but dare not sort of notice of Nov: B.4 & me, in wh' O'C's and Dr B's names are toss'd ab't superficially & with attempted sarcasm—(You are invited to see what you may be destined to)—Horace T5 continues faithful & regular—was in here two hours ago—I sympathize too with Mr6 & Mrs Sanborn7—I count on Burroughs8 coming out from his hole yet9—Lawyer Harned10 & wife have just call'd on me, both welcome (they have fine children & sometimes bring them)—I am sitting here yet as one held by a heavy chain or coil—Yes wonder I get along as I do, as well upon the whole, for I understand how much worse all might be—Love to you & to Mrs. K11


Walt Whitman


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. 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]

2. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]

3. 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]

4. Whitman is referring a review of November Boughs by William S. Walsh published in The Saturday Review on March 2, 1889. [back]

5. 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]

6. Franklin B. Sanborn (1831–1917) was an abolitionist and a friend of John Brown. In 1860, when he was tried in Boston because of his refusal to testify before a committee of the U.S. Senate, Whitman was in the courtroom (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: Macmillan, 1955], 242). He reviewed Drum-Taps in the Boston Commonwealth on February 24, 1866. He was editor of the Springfield Republican from 1868 to 1872, and was the author of books dealing with his friends Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. "A Visit to the Good Gray Poet" appeared without Sanborn's name in the Springfield Republican on April 19, 1876. For more on Sanborn, see Linda K. Walker, "Sanborn, Franklin Benjamin (Frank) (1831–1917)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. On March 18, 1889, Kennedy wrote that Sanborn's twenty-three-year old son had committed suicide. [back]

8. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Whitman is referring to Burroughs' depressions. See Burroughs' February 21, 1889, letter to Whitman. [back]

10. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

11. William Sloane Kennedy married Adeline Ella Lincoln of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1883; they lived for forty years in a house they built in Belmont, Massachusetts.  [back]


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