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William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 25 February 1889

 loc.02992.001.jpg Dear W. W.1

Just as my MS pkg was consigned to steamer Roman of the Warren Line, comes crawling along—like a fly in molasses— one of Fred. W. Wilson's2 idiotic little letters asking to see the MS. before agreeing to give me copyright, and assure me seeing of proofs &c—mere trifles. I distrust him, & think him incompetent. However, if Gardner3 declines we will fall back on the tortoise. He can't say I did not give him every chance.

I am glad that you had Bucke's4 Sarrazin5 translation too, if it pleased you. It is first rate, gives parts I omitted, & good ones too.6 It is just as I told you: the article is strong & adequate. The Dr. in his haste (& I suspect you slyly inveigled him as you did me) misses the point twice. Sarrazin does not say that Hegel is the greatest of the philosophers after Whitman: he says Hegel is the greatest &c according to Whitman. Après means after; but d'après (used by Sarrazin: I saw it in the article at Harvard Library again to-day) means according to, or in the opinion of, on the authority of, & always embodies that idea.

Again our good Dr. misses it in the condor business. Here is Sarrazin: He says where the details are removed from Leaves of Grass.

vous vous apercevez immédiatement que la vie et la variété se sont retirées du tableau et qu'il n'est plus traversé que de grands et monotones coups d'ailes de perceive immediately that the life of the variety themselves have taken away from the picture, and that it is no more traversed except by great & monotonous strokes of wing of the condor. (But Dr. B. gives the exact opposite of the true rendering in his translation)


I don't think I have seen the article by O'Connor7 you allude to.

very cold to-day. Feb. 25 '89

What a fine Lowell8 number the Critic has (too much taffy; but good reading some of it.)

Bucke's "a banditti of politicians" is funny; in English it means "a robbers of politicians."!

If I had tho't we cd have got a [illegible]. I shd have taken several days (instead of two hours) & made a careful exclusive translation of the bulk of the piece. However, it is just as well.

It grieves me much, dear friend I hear of those pains "inside night & day." Dear me, can't you get rid of 'em?

affec, Billy K.

(that's the way they called me out West.)

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William Sloane Kennedy, biographer, editor, and critic, was one of Whitman's most devoted friends and admirers. Kennedy first met Whitman in Philadelphia in 1880 while working on the staff of the American. He soon became a frequent correspondent and visitor to Whitman's Camden, New Jersey, home, a constant contributor of small gifts, and the author of several essays and newspaper articles in praise of Whitman. 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 addresssed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: North Cambridge, Sta. Mass | Feb | 26 | 8am | 1889; Camden, N.J. | Feb | 27 | 10am | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) of Paisley, Scotland, was a publisher who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman; he ultimately published William Sloane Kennedy's Reminiscences of Walt Whitman in 1896 after a long and contentious battle with Kennedy over editing the book. Gardner published and co-edited the Scottish Review from 1882 to 1886. [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. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Whitman asked both Kennedy and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke to translate into English an abstract of Sarrazin's "Poétes moderns de l'amérique, Walt Whitman," La Nouvelle Revue, 52 (May 1888), 164–84 (see Whitman's letter to Kennedy of January 22, 1889, and to Bucke of January 27, 1889). Sarrazin's piece has been reprinted in an English translation by Harrison S. Morris in In Re (pp. 159–94). [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. James Russell Lowell (1819–1891), one of Whitman's famous poetic contemporaries, was committed to conventional poetic form, which was clearly at odds with Whitman's more experimental form. Still, as editor of the Atlantic Monthly, he published Whitman's "Bardic Symbols," probably at Ralph Waldo Emerson's suggestion. Lowell later wrote a tribute to Abraham Lincoln titled "Commemoration Ode," which has often, since its publication, been contrasted with Whitman's own tribute, "O Captain! My Captain!" [back]
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