Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Margrave Kenyon to Walt Whitman, 22 February 1891

Date: February 22, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02594

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

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

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Andy King, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock

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16 Melrose Terrace
West Kensington, London
Feb 22, '911

Dear Sir—

You will help me to prove that I am in the possession of tragic powers far greater than Irving's,2 if you can see special merit & a new great teaching in the Norse play "Madansena,"3 & will make your findings known. I post you a copy with this. Clara JECKS4 who acted Buchanan's5 "PSYCHE" in "The Bride of Love"6 speaks of its 'power & greatness.' WAUGH,7 who reviewed MORRIS8 as a poet in Murray's magazine January '91 writes that he has read it "with much interest." One of our leading poets whose name is not known to me "liked very much" a poem of mine on the Colosseum which in a minor London magazine was called "a marvel of word painting."

As publishers do not care to buy the play, I cannot get into public notice. I am now approaching 35 & have powers of a very great order as a Shakesperean actor. Fechter's LAERTES9 was exceedingly excited when he gave me the first lesson 9 or 10 years ago. As my great aims in life are PRO BONO PUBLICO, you may find it in your heart to say a POTENT thing or two in my behalf. Kindly TRY ACT II sc 3 first.

Yours Sincerely
Margrave Kenyon

The agent H.S. TAYLOR

1193 Broadway New York has doubtlessly received 12 of my books within the last few days to "PLACE" amongst managers—BARRETT,10 Modjeska,11 Fanny Davenport12 &c—but the hope is exceedingly—"SMALL" unaided by a great man's "SAY."

"Margrave Kenyon" was the pen name of British playwright Leonard Terry, who, under the "Margrave Kenyon" name, published his play entitled Madansema, Slave of Love; re Tolstoi, a counter-song to anti-marriage (London, 1890), a kind of response to Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata. Little is known about Leonard Terry; Edwin Haviland Miller, in his calendar of letters written to Whitman, refers to "Margrave Kenyon" as "an English quack."


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman Esq | (POET) | Camden | New Jersey | U.S.A. It is postmarked: [illegible]AM [illegible]TH | [illegible] | FE 23 | 91 | W.; [illegible]RSMITH | [illegible]; [illegible]; CAMDEN, N.J. | MAR | 5 | 6AM | 1891 | REC'D; [illegible] [back]

2. Sir Henry Irving (1838–1905), born John Henry Brodribb, was a well-known British stage actor and inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula. Both Stoker (1847–1912) and Irving visited Whitman in Camden in 1884, where the actor and Whitman talked "a good while and seemed to take to each other mightily" (Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: Francis P. Harper, 1896], 55). [back]

3. The full name of this play is Madansema, Slave of Love; re Tolstoi, a counter-song to anti-marriage, published in London in 1890. [back]

4. Clara Jecks (1854–1951) was an English actress and singer who often played the roles of either young men or flirtatious female minor characters in opera and theatre performances.  [back]

5. Robert Buchanan (1841–1901), Scottish poet and critic, had lauded Whitman in the Broadway Annual in 1867, and in 1872 praised Whitman but attributed his poor reception in England to the sponsorship of William Michael Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne. See Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England (1934), 79–80, and Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (1955), 445–446. Swinburne's recantation later in 1872 may be partly attributable to Buchanan's injudicious remarks. For more on Buchanan, see Philip W. Leon, "Buchanan, Robert (1841–1901)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. The Bride of Love was a romantic drama by Robert Buchanan (1841–1901) that featured the classical Greek characters Eros and Psyche. [back]

7. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

8. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

9. Laertes was Ophelia's brother in Shakespeare's Hamlet[back]

10. Kenyon is likely referring to either the American actor Lawrence Barrett (1838–1891) or British actor and playwright Wilson Barrett (1846–1904). [back]

11. Helena Modjeska (1840–1909) was a well-known Polish actress, particularly famous for playing Shakespearean heroines. In 1878, Whitman met Modjeska while visiting with writer and editor Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909). The poet later said of the actress, "She is a fascinating, bright woman. I have never seen her act—saw her at Gilder's, in New York—handsome, agreeable, magnetic" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, August 28, 1889). [back]

12. Born in London and educated in Boston, Fanny Davenport (1850–1898) was a stage actress. At the age of seven, she made her first appearance on the stage, and she eventually formed her own acting company. [back]


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