Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 5 August 1886

Date: August 5, 1886

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00819

Source: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:40. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein and Kyle Barton

Aug 5 '86

I have looked over the 2d piece "Jay Charleton's"—& it is the silliest compound of nonsense, lies & rot I have ever seen—Not a line but has an absurd lie—The paper of Conway is not much better1

If you want to keep your book from foulness & ridiculous misstatements you had better leave both pieces out.

W. W.

William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 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. William Shepherd Walsh's Pen Pictures of Modern Authors (1882), 161–177, included a reprint of Conway's article in The Fortnightly Review in 1866 (see the letter from Walt to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman of November 13, 1866) and "a flashy bit of Bohemian literature by 'Jay Charlton,'" the pen name of J. C. Goldsmith (see William Sloane Kennedy, The Fight of a Book for the World, 55); this piece offered an impression of Whitman among the New York Bohemians at Pfaff's beer cellar and characterized the poet's "yawps" as "wretched failures" because "his Pegasus is a mad bull, dashing furiously into swamps, ditches, and dung-hills, and then frightening literature by shaking his muddy horns at it." Kennedy on August 18 agreed to omit both articles. [back]


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