Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 19 April 1886

Date: April 19, 1886

Editorial note: The annotation, "Paper rec'd also!! good!," is 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.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977).

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

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02895

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



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Belmont Mass1
April 19. '86

My Dear Poet:

Your postal rec'd. I have completed (rough finish) my seven chapters on you.2 They are the most stunning eulogy & defence a poet ever rec'd I do believe—260 pp—Have done for you what Ruskin did for Turner. It is the most scholarly, fiery, and heavy-artillery piece of work I have yet done; took all my strength, I can tell you. It about exhausts the subject & me too, I have a bibliography also abt done. It is of astonishing proportions. Don't tell Bucke for fear he'll get jealous.

O'Connor,3 Stedman,4 Knortz5 & Whiting6 &c. are helping me on it.

I am going to add a partial Concordance, or index to yr first lines & passages. (keep it mum) I want to add also a chapter on "The Friends of Whitman," with personal notes on you too. I am hoping to come down & see you in July shd like to have a peep at that wonderful fairy-land of yrs down on Timber Creek, & maybe get a sketch of it, for the book. Wilson & McCormick sent me Dowden's7 English Critics on WW. I have got in my cellar, Walt, about 50 bottles of elderberry cordial—fine, smacky, made by myself last fall out of purest spring water & lump sugar. Am going to send you ½ doz soon. But it ought not to be drank for 3 or 4 years. Mrs Davis8 will tell you how long it ought to be kept to be good. Cheer up, noble heart! You "ain't" going to get blue now? You are good for 20 years yet, sure.

My grand poet, my friend
Yours as ever
W.S. Kennedy

How's the pony?


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 | N. Jersey | 328 Mickle St. It is postmarked: BOSTON, MASS | APR 20 | 9-AM | 1886; [illegible]MDE [illegible] | AP [illegible] | [illegible] | 7 [illegible] | 18 [illegible]. [back]

2. As euphoric as Kennedy sounds in this letter, his book-length study of Whitman would not see the light of day until 1896, when it was published as Reminiscences of Walt Whitman[back]

3. 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]

4. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Karl Knortz (1841–1918) was born in Prussia and came to the U.S. in 1863. He was the author of many books and articles on German-American affairs and was superintendent of German instruction in Evansville, Ind., from 1892 to 1905. See The American-German Review 13 (December 1946), 27–30. His first published criticism of Whitman appeared in the New York Staats-Zeitung Sonntagsblatt on December 17, 1882, and he worked with Thomas W. H. Rolleston on the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry, published as Grashalme in 1889. For more information about Knortz, see Walter Grünzweig, "Knortz, Karl (1841–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Perhaps Lilian Whiting (1859–1942), an American writer and journalist. [back]

7. 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]

8. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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