Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 22 May 1891

Date: May 22, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: uva.00610

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 Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:202. 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, Erel Michaelis, and Stephanie Blalock

May 22 '91

Y'r card rec'd2—If you have not printed ab't "Good-Bye"3 keep it back for eight or ten days, as that w'd be preferable for reasons4

I still hold out, but the worst kind of botherings, gastric, catarrhal & bladder—Dr comes—I take medicine—am sitting here at present in my chair by window—warm weather—


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).


1. This letter is addressed: Sloane Kennedy | Belmont | Mass:. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | May 22 | 8 PM | 91. [back]

2. Whitman is referring to Kennedy's postal card of May 21, 1891.  [back]

3. 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 2d Annex" to 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]

4. Whitman wanted to have two poems from Good-Bye My Fancy (1891)—"On, on the Same, Ye Jocund Twain!" and "Unseen Buds"—appear in Once a Week before the book was released and reviewed. However, according to the next letter, Kennedy had already published his review. On the envelope of the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke's letter of May 26, Whitman wrote, presumably to Horace Traubel, "Send Dr the slip (if you have it) ¼ sheet Boston Transcript—his little criticism 'Good-Bye' of five days ago." Kennedy's criticism from the May 21, 1891, issue of the Boston Transcript is reprinted in Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, May 23, 1891[back]


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