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Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, John Burroughs, and Richard Maurice Bucke, 16 March [1887]

I send you the latest from our dear friend O'Connor2 not knowing whether you will get word directly3—I am having one of my bad spells, but it will probably pass over—I have had my breakfast, (two or three stewed oysters & a piece of toast)—am sitting here in the little front room down stairs—the sun is shining & my bird singing—I havent been out in many days4—pretty cold here—I recd a letter from J. B. Marvin,5 his circular "Bureau of Information at Washington" &c—Washington—I am billed to read the Lincoln lecture in the Unitarian Church here, April 56—See if I can get there—God bless you all—

Walt Whitman.

William Sloane Kennedy, John Burroughs, and Richard Maurice Bucke were three of Whitman's closest friends and admirers. Kennedy (1850–1929) first met Whitman while on the staff of the Philadelphia American in 1880, and would go on to write a book-length study of the poet. Burroughs (1837–1921), a naturalist, met Whitman in Washington, D.C. in 1864 and became one of Whitman's most frequent correspondents. He would also go on to write several studies of Whitman. Bucke (1837–1902), a Canadian physician, was Whitman's first biographer, and would later become one of his medical advisors and literary executors.


  • 1. This letter is endorsed by Kennedy: [Joint letter to myself, John Burroughs & Dr Bucke | sent first to me with request to forward]. [back]
  • 2. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. 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]
  • 3. According to Kennedy's notation on his transcription of this letter, it was written on the verso of one from Charles Eldridge "describing the state of health of Wm D. O'Connor. Nervous prostration with a good deal of rheumatism." [back]
  • 4. According to Whitman's Commonplace Book (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), he was able to take "a ride out" on March 21. [back]
  • 5. Joseph B. Marvin, a friend and an admirer of Whitman's poetry, was from 1866 to 1867 the co-editor of the Radical. He was then appointed as a clerk in the Treasury Department in Washington, on behalf of which he took a trip to London in the late fall of 1875. On October 19, 1875, Whitman wrote a letter to William Michael Rossetti to announce a visit from Marvin. Rossetti gave a dinner for Marvin, which was attended by the following "good Whitmanites": Anne Gilchrist; Joseph Knight, editor of the London Sunday Times; Justin McCarthy, a novelist and writer for the London Daily News; Edmund Gosse; and Rossetti's father-in-law, Ford Madox Brown. [back]
  • 6. This is a reference to Whitman's lecture entitled "The Death of Abraham Lincoln." He first delivered this lecture in New York in 1879 and would deliver it at least eight other times over the succeeding years, delivering it for the last time on April 15, 1890. He published a version of the lecture as "Death of Abraham Lincoln" in Specimen Days and Collect (1882–83). For more on the lecture, see Larry D. Griffin, "'Death of Abraham Lincoln,'" Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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