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Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 10 January 1888

Am sitting here by the fire alone early afternoon & will write you a few lines—have had my light dinner—(stew'd chicken & a cup of tea & enjoy'd with sufficient zest)—Feelings in general not much different—of good substantial spirits, the fund still holds out—but quite a perceptible, steadily, almost rapidly increasing weakness of limb, strength, eyesight &c.—In fact a, more or less slow, loosening & deadening of the physical machine—After a dark storm, (with snow,) nearly a week, the sun is out this afternoon & there is a half-thaw—My friend Pearsall Smith1 (who is very kind all along,) was here yesterday & bro't a great bundle of London literary weeklies &c. wh' I have been looking over—I like the advertisement pages ab't as well as any—I suppose Ernest Rhys2 is there with you—I sent him three letters yesterday enveloped to your care. I rec'd your letter—Wilson3 then is the pub[lisher] y'r book—If you think well of it, express the whole MS. first, to me here, that I may look over & authenticate—Put it in stout pasteboards, tie well, & direct fully & carefully, & it will easily travel & the expense will not be great4


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. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was an essayist and literary critic. He was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith, a minister and writer who befriended Whitman, and he was the brother of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, one of Whitman's most avid followers. For more information on Logan, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Frederick W. Wilson was a member of the Glasgow firm of Wilson & McCormick that published the 1883 British edition of Specimen Days and Collect. Kennedy's manuscript was one of several drafts of what became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (1926). For Whitman's conflicting opinions of Kennedy's study, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, August 18, 1888. [back]
  • 4. Kennedy wrote on January 10, 1888 and again on the following day after receipt of Whitman's letter, and reported an impending visit with Sanborn at Concord and Rhys's lecture before the Saint Botolph Club. In a postscript on January 10 he observed: "Rhys is obeying yr injunction to show me myself. Nothing delights me more—my limitations are so many. I see chances of improvement in many directions, already—from his friendly suggestions." [back]
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