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William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 19 June 1890

 loc_zs.00551.jpg Dear & Beloved Friend:

How pleasant to get a good strong cheery old-time letter from you!2 This is one of the pleasant evenings when my good mother used to say "How good the dear Father is to us!" Wife3 & I came out together on train, compared gifts for each other & experiences of the day. Got at P.O. at foot of hill yr good brief with treasured words of blessing & cheer. Have read Dr's4 letter. Am getting ready to go, & expect to see you on return for an hour or so. Have just picked strawberries. Roses are in bloom. Do you expect some buds in a few days. We are going tonight to a children's play (dramatic opera) down at town hall—tickets given me by our dramatic critic on Transcript=Jenks5—I'll say a word abt the play. I love children, & am fast friends to all the good little girls & boys hereabouts & remember them often with gifts of candy.

Good bye dear heart— yr son in the spirit W.S. Kennedy.


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Well what of it?7 You can afford to rest on yr glorious laurels. If only a stirring great occasion arouses you. I firmly believe in yr power to utter a blast of old time strength & race. The trouble is you are not deeply moved by anything in these peaceful days. Take yr time & write—when the occasion serves, even if years hence.


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. Kennedy has written the word "Over" in the top right corner of the first page of the letter to indicate that he has included a postscript to Whitman on the verso. [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's letter to Kennedy of June 18, 1890. [back]
  • 3. Kennedy had married Adeline Ella Lincoln (d. 1923) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June 17, 1883. Their son Mortimer died in infancy. [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. Francis Henry Jenks (1838–1894) was a nineteenth-century theater critic who served as the music and dramatic editor of the Boston Evening Transcript from 1881 to 1894. [back]
  • 6. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]
  • 7. Kennedy is responding to Whitman's letter of June 18, 1890, in which Whitman expressed frustration following the rejection of his poem "On, On the Same, Ye Jocund Twain" by Richard Watson Gilder, editor of The Century. Whitman went on to write, "I have now been shut off by all the magazines here & the Nineteenth Century in England—& feel like closing house as poem writer—(you know a fellow doesn't make brooms or shoes if nobody will have 'em)." [back]
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