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William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 11 January 1888

 loc.02909.001_large.jpg Dear W.W.

Your good long letter Jan. 10—recd It's so cold I could'nt sleep this morn. Your letter alarms me for yr health, somewhat. I have decided to come on & see you in a week or so. I will be very careful not to fatigue or bother you. I begin to see that it is useless to wait till you are free from other visitors. For Rhys2 says he is coming on to see you too, & you will always be more or less besieged. By coming on I could bring my MS with me, & stay three days at least. There is no hurry about the MS, for Wilson3 does not want it of course on hand, until the subscribers' names mount up pretty cheerily. He is anxious to have it boomed up through, & asks permission to announce it, wh.​ I have granted by this mail. I am revising the MS. for punctuation & style.—Dr. B.4 sends me word that he will send me a list of Whitmanites. I have already made out a long one—going over all my scraps & records for the purpose

Our brilliant young fellow Rhys is booming on here. I assume the papa toward him a little. We are trying to rub the British bloom "off 'n him."  loc.02909.002_large.jpg We go to Sanborn's5 at Concord Frid​ to dine, Sat to St. Botolph's6 club goes he &c &c.

He gets definite 'invite' to lecture bef.​ 19 cent.​ club.

Farewell dear friend for to-day friend in the deepest sense. May we soon strike hands together!

affec'y WS Kennedy

P.S. I must stop & roust up Rhys so he can read me his lecture to me before I go to work. Will send you my Herald article on him when it appears.

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. Based on the information provided in this letter, it was written in 1888. Whitman had misdated it in the first days of the new year. [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. [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. The St. Botolph Club, founded in 1880, was a well-known social club in Boston, named after Botwulf of Thorney, the patron saint of Boston, England. The club attracted many luminary figures, including Henry Cabot Lodge and John Boyle O'Reilly. [back]
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