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Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 17 April [1886]

I have rec'd the Indexes—thanks—I send you a paper—I read my Death of Abraham Lincoln screed in Phila: Thursday last—best turn out & most profit to me yet.

I am about as usual—but certainly gradually slipping down every year. Dr Bucke has gone to England for two months. Love to you1


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. According to the Philadelphia Press on April 16, the lecture at the Opera House was preceded by a concert; the house was filled with guests, including Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, George W. Childs, Richard Watson Gilder, and Horace Howard Furness. With the lowering of the footlights, the stage was "in a half darkness save where in the centre the glow of the rose-globed study lamp cast its mellow light upon the August head of the poet as he bent over his pages." After the lecture Whitman read "O Captain! My Captain!" and "the audience remained seated until the poet dismissed them with an inclination of his massive head." Although Kennedy was writing enthusiastically about a book he proposed to do on the poet, Whitman evinced little interest. With his usual canny patience he bided his time until Kennedy "interpreted" his silence to mean that he wanted to see the manuscript. See the letter from Whitman to Kennedy of June 20, 1886. [back]
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