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William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, [After 25 November 1890]

 loc.03115.001_large.jpg Dear Walt Whitman:—

We all enjoyed the Sun-Set piece1 very much, Clement2 gave it a place of honor. It it is very beautiful & profound. Thank you.

I see by the papers that yr brother Tom3 is dead.4 I often think of "Jeff," as I saw him at yr house

I rather admire, so far as I knew him that grim Parnell.5 Carlyle6 wd have liked his attitude I think—Gladstone7 seems to dwindle just now in comparision—G. whom Carlyle called a man "who always looks at the mere clothes of the fact."8

I am so sorry about that belly-ache business of yours



E.H. Clement—our Ed. in chief seems in no hurry to print our Dutch piece, does he?9 Well, he will use it some time

Frau Kennedy10 sends her love & thanks you for remembering her in yr letters

We are quite well & happy, are attending theatres considerably Enjoyed Jefferson11 in or Pangloss & as Bob Acres12 immensely, though I think Irving13 tremendous, too, also saw two of the old comedies at the Museum14—our most comfortable theatre as to ventilation. I am trying to get a picture of old Boston 100 years ago in my mind.

How wonderful & grand seems to be Dr Koch's discovery!15 I 'allus' thot it 'ud come.

affec. 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 poem "To the Sunset Breeze" first appeared in Lippincott’s Magazine (December 1890) and was reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (1891). The poem was also published in the Boston Transcript in 1890 (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, May 23, 1891). [back]
  • 2. Edward Henry Clement (1843–1920) of Chelsea, Massachusetts, began his career as a journalist with the Savannah Daily News in the mid-1860s. He later became the editor of the Boston Transcript, a position that he held for twenty-five years. [back]
  • 3. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized figure. For more on Jeff, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. Although Kennedy did not date this letter, it was likely sent just after the death of Whitman's brother, Thomas Jefferson Whitman, on November 25, 1890. [back]
  • 5. Charles Stewart Parnell (1846–1891) was an Irish Nationalist politician, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and a member of Parliament. Parnell reacted to the First Home Rule Bill, a move toward self-government for Ireland within the United Kingdom, with a mix of support and critique. The bill was defeated in the House of Commons in 1886. For more on Parnell, see Paul Bew, "Parnell, Charles Stewart, (1846–1891)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004). [back]
  • 6. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985). [back]
  • 7. William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898) was a British Liberal politician and Prime Minister of Great Britain for four separate terms. In 1886, he unsuccessfully proposed home rule for Ireland. [back]
  • 8. For the full quotation by Carlyle, made in a letter to John Carlyle on March 23, 1873, see James Anthony Froude, Thomas Carlyle: A History of His Life in London, 1834–1881 (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1884), vol. 2, p. 423, where Carlyle calls Gladstone "one of the contemptiblest men I ever looked on." [back]
  • 9. Kennedy is referring to his article called "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman," which he apparently unsuccessfully submitted to the Boston Transcript and then published in Horace Traubel's Conservator in February 1891. The piece was reprinted in Horace Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned, eds., In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 195–199. [back]
  • 10. Kennedy had married Adeline Ella Lincoln (d. 1923) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June 17, 1883. [back]
  • 11. Joseph ("Joe") Jefferson III (1829–1905) was an American actor and one of the most famous American comedians of the nineteenth century. He was well known for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle onstage. On October 23, 1891, the American journalist and diplomat John Russell Young (1840–1899) invited Whitman to an informal luncheon at the Union Club in Philadelphia in honor of Joseph Jefferson and William Jermyn Florence, stage name of Bernard Conlin, a dialect comedian. Whitman declined the invitation, according to his October 24, 1891, letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke. [back]
  • 12. Dr. Peter Pangloss was a character in the play The Heir at Law (1797) by George Colman (the Younger), and Bob Acres was a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals (1775). Both roles were played by the nineteenth-century actor Joseph Jefferson. [back]
  • 13. Sir Henry Irving (1838–1905), born John Henry Brodribb, was a well-known British stage actor and inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula. Both Stoker (1847–1912) and Irving visited Whitman in Camden in 1884, where the actor and Whitman talked "a good while and seemed to take to each other mightily" (Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: Francis P. Harper, 1896], 55). [back]
  • 14. The Boston Museum, built in 1841, was a theatre and museum (of art and natural history) designed by architect Hammatt Billings (1818–1874). [back]
  • 15. At a World Congress of Medicine in Berlin in 1890, Dr. Robert Koch (1843–1910)—a German physician and microbiologist—announced a substance known as "tuberculin" or "Koch's lymph" that he argued would provide a remedy for tuberculosis. It was later found to be more useful as a diagnostic tool for determining whether a person was infected with tuberculosis. Dr. Koch is known for his identification of the causative agents of tuberculosis, anthrax, and cholera, and he made key contributions to the improvement of laboratory techniques in microbiology and in the field of public health. He earned the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on tuberculosis in 1905. [back]
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