Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 17 June 1886

Date: June 17, 1886

Editorial note: The annotation, "Kennedy," is in an unknown hand.

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.02896

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



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Belmont, Mass1
June 17, 1886.

My Dear Whitman,—

Don't you thik it would be well for you to give me a line to Prof. Dowden,2 telling him that you have read the bibliography of my forthcoming book, and that you think you can commend the work to his careful reading. Also a word of introduction to Symonds,3 in case he will be willing to write an Introduction to it, (the book). I am afraid they will be but dilatory in taking hold of the matter on my request alone,. But a word of introduction from you, worded as you please, would secure their devoted service. There is not a word of criticism in the book; it is solely an enthusiastic eulogy and an interpetation and defence of your whole life, aims, and work,—accompanied by a valuable bibliog. and concordance, with an appendix, and three illustrations. My belief is that it will have a great sale in Great Britain, if it is got before your public there in the right way. For my part, I dislike to ask anyone for to serve as go-between, but you seemed to think it would be wise. Be sure and tell me always how you are. I am just finishing the chapter "Walt W. & his Friends". My roses are superb; have pitched a tent in my yard.

Aff.
W. S. Kennedy.

Could you answer at once, sending me the letters of introduction?


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: BELMONT | JUN | 18 | 1886 | MASS; CAMDEN | JUN | 19 | 7AM | 1886 | REC'D. There is one additional, partial postmark, but only the letters "N TRAN" are visible. [back]

2. 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]

3. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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