Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 20 June [1886]

Date: June 20, 1886

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:33–34. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00546

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein and Kyle Barton

June 20—Evn'g

Dear W S K

I send you a note of introduction to J A Symonds—whom I think most likely & valuable, for the purpose you spoke of—(if I rightly understood it)—Symonds has leisure, has long been a reader of L of G.—& I have heard has for some time been wanting to have something to say in print about it—If possible send him at first a copy of your complete book, in proof from the types, or type-written in slips, complete1—In fact get two or three such copies, & send me one in advance—No doubt I would see many important corrections to be made—or additions—or elisions—Maybe (though may-be not too)—J A S would like the chance of giving his say, in such introduction—I dont think well of requesting any thing from Dowden2


Your Ruskin book3 has been rec'd & I have been reading it all day—

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).


1. Apparently Kennedy was encouraged to undertake a longer study after Whitman's praise of The Poet as A Craftsman (see the letter from Whitman to Kennedy of December 2, 1885). Kennedy's letter of February 5 had been filled with ambitious plans: "The book on you that I had been contemplating for some years is coming bravely to the birth. It has burst from me as from a ripe pomegranate, its seeds come from me with throes. I have been 2 weeks in a fever of parturition. . . . Knortz has been at me twice to make this book, & I hope you will not be displeased. . . . Dr. Bucke's book is invaluable, but it lacks profundity & literary knack in its treatment of the work (analysis) & estimate of the problems involved. In fact I find it quite inadequate in these respects." Kennedy of course, did not know that Bucke's book was really Whitman's book. On April 19 Kennedy again lauded his book ("Walt Whitman, the Poet of Humanity"): "I have completed (rough finish) my seven chapters on you. 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." On July 10, Kennedy spelled out the contents of his seven chapters: "Enfans d'Adam," "Whitman's Title To Greatness," "The Style of Leaves of Grass," "Analytical Introduction To Leaves of Grass," "Democrat & Comrade," "Passage To India," and "Walt Whitman and His Friends," to be followed by an appendix, conclusion, and bibliography. Without consulting Whitman, Kennedy had begun negotiations for publication. Frederick W. Wilson, the Scottish publisher of Leaves of Grass, was not willing to undertake publication when he wrote to Kennedy on April 24, 1886, because the trade "is so terribly depressed that all enterprise is knocked on the head" (Trent Collection, Duke University). This manuscript was the first of several drafts of what became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (1926). Part of the manuscript with Whitman's corrections is in the Trent Collection, Duke University. For Whitman's conflicting opinions of Kennedy's study, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, August 18, 1888[back]

2. On June 17 Kennedy had requested a letter of introduction from Whitman to Dowden. Since Dowden always wrote sympathetically, Whitman's remark is somewhat puzzling. On June 19 Edward T. Potter sent an extract from Dowden's most recent reference to Whitman; see "The Interpretation of Literature," The Contemporary Review, 49 (May 1886), 701–719. [back]

3. Nature and Literature: A Ruskin Anthology, compiled by William Sloane Kennedy, was published in 1886. [back]


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