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William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, After 28 May 1891

 loc.03114.001_large.jpg Dear Friend:

I have just read through again more carefully "Good-Bye my F."1 I think "The Pallid Wreath,"2 "Old Age's Ship & Crafty D."3 To the Sunset Breeze4 and the last "Good-B my F"5 (did you notice that you had two of the same title?) are alone enough to justify the book & are as great as anything you have done in many years. The pantheistic necromancy in the last lines of the last poem come with a freshness of surprise that is very pleasant to a mystical mind.

I hope the hot weather is not taking you down.

Rec'd Traubel's6 wedding card from London!7 Give him my congratulations! Howells8 writes me that Garland's9 book of stories10 pleases him immensely  loc.03114.002_large.jpg it is so fresh & aggressive. Garland & I had a grand day with the "Listener"11 & Bradford Torrey12 the bird lover at—Newton Lower Falls (Wellesley) on Decoration Day. Stayed to Brown bread & Beans supper (good!) got up by hearty Western wife of Chamberlin (Listener). Saw humming bird's nest on apple bough (occupied, live & exquisite).

One of our journalists just dead a fine fellow. (I rec'd your yellow letter of May 27th13 thanks)14

W. S. Kennedy

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. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy" in Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. "The Pallid Wreath" was published in the Critic on January 10, 1891; the poem was also reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). [back]
  • 3. Whitman's poem "Old Age's Ship and Crafty Death's" was published in the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine in February 1890. [back]
  • 4. Whitman's "To the Sunset Breeze" was first published in Lippincott's Magazine in December 1890. [back]
  • 5. Whitman's poem "Good-By My Fancy!" was the concluding poem in the poetry section of Good-Bye My Fancy (1891), and when those poems were added as an annex to the 1891–92 final edition of Leaves of Grass, it became the concluding poem of the volume. [back]
  • 6. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. Horace Traubel married Anne Montgomerie on May 28, 1891 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). After Whitman's birthday celebration on May 31, 1891, the couple traveled with the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke back to London, Ontario, where they stayed until returning to Camden, New Jersey, on June 14. [back]
  • 8. William Dean Howells (1837–1920) was an American realist novelist and literary critic, serving the staff of the New York Nation and Harper's Magazine during the mid 1860s. During his tenure as editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Monthly from 1871 to 1880, he was one of the foremost critics in New York, and used his influence to support American authors like Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, and Emily Dickinson. He also brought attention to European authors like Henrik Ibsen, Giovanni Verga, and Leo Tolstoy in particular. Howells was highly skeptical of Whitman's poetry, however, and frequently questioned his literary merit. In an Ashtabula Sentinel review of the 1860 edition Leaves of Grass, Howells wrote, "If he is indeed 'the distinctive poet of America,' then the office of poet is one which must be left hereafter to the shameless and the friendless. for WALT WHITMAN is not a man whom you would like to know." In 1865, Howells would write the first important review of Drum-Taps in the Round Table, demonstrating early signs of his conflicted opinion about Whitman. For more information on Howells, see Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson, William Dean Howells: A Writer's Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). [back]
  • 9. Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) was an American novelist and autobiographer, known especially for his works about the hardships of farm life in the American Midwest. For his relationship to Whitman, see Thomas K. Dean, "Garland, Hamlin," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. Kennedy is likely referring here to Garland's book of short stories titled Main-Travelled Roads, published in 1891. [back]
  • 11. Joseph Edgar Chamberlin (1851–1935) was an American journalist for the Boston Transcript and the Youth's Companion. He wrote "The Listener" column for the Boston Transcript for many years. He wrote about Whitman for this column, and the piece was republished in Nomads and Listeners of Joseph Edgar Chamberlin (Books for Libraries Press, 1937), 128–134. [back]
  • 12. Bradford Torrey was a writer and naturalist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Torrey's expertise was in ornithology, and he frequently contributed to periodicals. [back]
  • 13. Kennedy is referring to Whitman's letter of May 27, 1891. [back]
  • 14. Kennedy crossed out the final sentence of his letter, which reads as follows: "Look out for roses." [back]
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