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William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 13 December 1888

 loc_as.00147_large.jpg Dear Walt: W.

Did you ever write a production called "Solitude"? It is credited to you by a pencil-script line in the Harvard College Library. I don't believe it is yrs, but that it is an imitation.1 It is unbound, about 2/3 the size of this sheet, contains 16 pp. & has written on it in pencil "Presented to the Library by Prof. Jas: Russell Lowell,2 1860. Sept 26." It is divided into two sections, with running titles "Chamber," & "Street," & begins

"O! this everlasting contact with men; This agony of a continual presence."

I shd like to get yr written word on it.

W. S. K.  loc_as.00148_large.jpg

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 confirmed Kennedy's suspicions that "Solitude" was not one of the poet's works. See the letter from Whitman to Kennedy on December 18, 1888. He also denied authoring the poem in the postscript of a December 13, 1888, letter to Richard Maurice Bucke. Whitman sent this inquiry from Kennedy as an enclosure in his letter to Bucke. [back]
  • 2. James Russell Lowell (1819–1891) was a poet, literary and social critic, abolitionist, editor, Harvard professor, and diplomat (Brendan A. Rapple, "James Russell Lowell", American Travel Writers, 1850–1915 [Detroit: Gale, 1998], 247–254). [back]
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