Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 2 December 1885

Date: December 2, 1885

Editorial notes: The annotations, "I send you 3 copies.," and "from W S Kennedy | (the Poet as Craftsman)," are in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02892

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Nicole Gray, Ian Faith, and Kyle Barton



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Belmont Mass1
Dec 2 '85

My Dear Whitman—

Maugre yr wholesome advice, (exc. that I put in a page on you & Hugo—parallelism of yr poetic-technique en-avant freshness &c) I have done gone & published my essay "The Poet as a Craftsman."2

I set up every stick of it mesilf indade, & corrected my proofs (wh. I'll have you know) were pronounced excellent by the other typos. You didn't know I had learned yr boyhood's art, did you? Well, I have learned just enough to set up this & my poems (Heaven bless the mark—"poems" quotha,—I wd'nt have you ever see 'em for a Scotch haggis, or a shining gold piece—). I pub. an edition of six copies of the poems! Of this monograph I struck off 300 copies. McKay (the "publisher") (lucus a non) has 225. You may tell him to let you have all you want at 12½ cts; retail price 25

I do hope you are feeling well, & pray fervently you may weather the winter very comfortably. How's the pony?

I am going to send copies of "Poet as Crafts" to Bucke,3 Swinburne,4 Tennyson,5 Rossetti,6 O'Connor,7 Burroughs,8 Dowden (what's his address?)9 Gilder,10 & O'Reilly.11 These of yr personal friends I mention so you need not send duplicates. I am sick of the pamphlet by this time; but I believe in it still very thoroughly, & hope it will elicit new thoughts & better, & be a bugle-note for reform.

affectionately, as ever
W. S. Kennedy

I read of the English gift of $500, with joy


Correspondent:
William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [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).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: CAMBRIDGE STA. | DEC | 1 | 10 AM | MASS.; CAMDEN, N.J. | DEC | 2 | 8 AM | 1885 | REC'D. [back]

2. Kennedy had been writing a defense of Whitman and sent a manuscript of the essay to Whitman on January 16, 1885. Growing impatient, he reminded the poet to answer his letter on March 12. Over two months later, on May 24, Whitman responded, finding the manuscript "all right" as well as "lofty, subtle & true" but suggesting Kennedy add "a criticism on Tennyson and Walt Whitman (or if you prefer on Victor Hugo, T and WW)." [back]

3. 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]

4. Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909) was a British poet, critic, playwright, and novelist. He was also one of Whitman's earliest English admirers. At the conclusion of William Blake: A Critical Essay (1868), 300–303, Swinburne pointed out similarities between Whitman and Blake, and praised "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," which he termed "the most sweet and sonorous nocturn ever chanted in the church of the world." His famous lyric "To Walt Whitman in America" is included in Songs before Sunrise (1871). For the story of Swinburne's veneration of Whitman and his later recantation, see two essays by Terry L. Meyers, "Swinburne and Whitman: Further Evidence," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 14 (Summer 1996), 1–11 and "A Note on Swinburne and Whitman," WWQR 21 (Summer 2003), 38–39. [back]

5. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

6. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868 Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to F.S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). 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. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888 Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) was the assistant editor of Scribner's Monthly from 1870 to 1881 and editor of its successor, The Century, from 1881 until his death. Whitman had met Gilder for the first time in 1877 at John H. Johnston's (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: New York University Press, 1955], 482). Whitman attended a reception and tea given by Gilder after William Cullen Bryant's funeral on June 14; see "A Poet's Recreation" in the New York Tribune, July 4, 1878. Whitman considered Gilder one of the "always sane men in the general madness" of "that New York art delirium" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 5, 1888). For more about Gilder, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Richard Watson (1844–1909)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. John Boyle O'Reilly (1844–1890) was a fervent Irish patriot who joined the British Army in order to sabotage it. He was arrested and sentenced to be hanged in 1866. Later the decree was altered, and O'Reilly was sent to Australia, where he escaped on an American whaler in 1869. In 1876 he became the coeditor of the Boston Pilot, a position which he held until his death in 1890. See William G. Schofield, Seek for a Hero: The Story of John Boyle O'Reilly (New York: Kennedy, 1956). For more on O'Reilly, see also the letter from Whitman to James R. Osgood of May 8, 1881.  [back]


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