Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 5 December 1887

Date: December 5, 1887

Editorial note: The annotation, "Belmont | Dec. 5 '87," 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.02912

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Nicole Gray, Stefan Schöberlein, and Stephanie Blalock



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Dear Friend:—

I hope the Rhys1 brothers have not gone to the bottom! It begins to fill me with alarum that we do not hear from the Croma2 in wh. he sailed.

———

I went in H. Williams & Everetts3 this evening after work, & passed a few rapt moments in looking at the bust of you which is handsomely mounted on a polished wood tall pedestal standing on the middle landing of the stairs & just before a pier glass mirror—The very best position in the rooms. I then saw that I had not really seen it at all in the right way—before (I mean) it was on a pedestal & viewed at a distance. I gave it draining regards that fixed it in my mind. I regard it as a noble work, & am very glad of this rich honor done to my poet, & I want to congratulate Morse very heartily on it. It is a fine, nay a great, work, in my opinion.

It seems to me that the chief traits that emerge are compassion blended with alert curiosity.

I don't know whether it strikes others so, or whether you wd want these traits emphasized so much. I do see too, in some measure, the far forward look you spoke of in yr good letter to me. But I think Morse4 might put more of the prophet or seer in it, or another one possibly.

Mrs. Fairchild5 & her husband are going to drive out & see my Cox photo, some time.6

I suppose Baxter has written you that we have written to Bost. Pub. Lib. about acceptance of bust.7 They have a little gallery of sculpture—as I now remember, & it will be a good place for it. Though I preferred the art museum. But Baxter likes to have his own way always.8

I must ask him about his Herald notice of it. For we must draw attention to it. He seems to have acted on Sidney M's suggestion abt Williams & Everett's being a better place than Chase's.


WS. Kennedy


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. Ernest Rhys (1859–1946) wrote on May 31, 1885: "Let me say simply in a young man's way to you who are an old man now, how dearly and earnestly I think of you across the sea to-night, remembering the Past, looking on to the great to-morrow, for perhaps of all young men you have helped me most powerfully & perfectly." On July 7, 1885 Rhys proposed a one-shilling edition of Whitman's poetry in The Canterbury Poets series. On September 25–29 Rhys wrote for the third time after waiting "for a reply so far in vain," and included the payment from Walter Scott, the English publisher of The Canterbury Poets. On Rhys's letter Whitman wrote: "the little English selection from L. of G. is out since, & the whole edition (10,000) sold." For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. The Croma was a Monarch line steamer operating between England and the U.S. in the 1880s. [back]

3. Williams & Everetts (1855–1907) was a Boston art dealership run by Henry Dudley Williams (1833–1907) and William Everett (1821–1899), two brothers-in-law, and their sons. [back]

4. Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 57–84; and David Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography (New York: Vintage Books, 1996), 546–590. [back]

5. Elizabeth Fairchild was the wife of Colonel Charles Fairchild, the president of a paper company, to whom Whitman sent the Centennial Edition on March 2, 1876 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). He mailed her husband a copy of Progress in April, 1881, shortly after his visit to Boston, where he probably met the Fairchilds for the first time (Commonplace Book). [back]

6. On the April 15, 1887, Whitman had sat for the photographer G. C. Cox of New York. Kennedy's photo appears to be lost. [back]

7. The Boston Public Library turned down the offer of the bust. Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. A reference to Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman—apparently the poet's favorite depiction of himself at the time. A photo of it would later become the frontispiece of Horace Traubel's 1889 Camden's Compliments to Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay), one of the first print-collections of Whitman's letters, addresses and notes. [back]


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