Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 7 January 1884

Date: January 7, 1884

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02599

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 notes: The annotations, "☞ $1.00 in John's book—fly leaf," "¶," and "over," are in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "5 CEF.," is in the hand of Charles E. Feinberg.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, and Nicole Gray

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Jan. 7, 84

My Dear Whitman—

I return the J. Burroughs1 Book. & the pamphlet with thanks. The Burroughs book fed me on my journey home, so that I had to buy no other reading.

I shall cherish the memory of that blessed January 2nd '85 to the end of my days.

My dear Whitman, I want you to regard me as a sort of son; tell me whenever I can do anything for you; let me loan you 5.00 if you get in a pinch, (& I have it). It is not always easy to borrow on real estate you know, or convenient I mean. & behave handsomely, & intimately & affectionately toward me.

I am going to enclose a $1.00 between fly-leaves of the Burroughs' book as half pay for a copy of the new edition of yr poems when it comes out. If it shd never come out, all right. I owe you $10. more anyway; for I got you to make me a present of yr books under false pretenses. I have not lectured on you more than once, & shall feel that I am a fraud until I have sent you $10. Say not a word.

I know you are rich: all poets are. But I want you to have luxuries, now you are getting old.

If this humbug government were worth a copper spangle it wd have settled a handsome pension on you—an honorary life salary—as a recognition of your unparalleled services during the war. But it wd probably be odious to you to even have the subject whispered of ? ?

I found brave little wife well, & got a hearty welcome. Our pretty & remarkably smart cat died the day I returned—whereat tears & swelling breasts, & a private funeral.

I must send you my N. Orleans articles. My Creole article in [Lit. Wld.?] is paid for, but not out for 3 weeks.

As is my paper entitled

"The New Ars Poetica"2

if you can get a certain number of copies disposed of in advance, enough to cover expense (say $25 (?)) it wd be the means of my being able to publish it. Dr. Bucke will take a certain number, & I shall sell a few I suppose. Wd 20 cts be too high a price for it?

Let me know what success you have in the matter. But dont go to any trouble.

W. S. Kennedy

It strikes me that it wd be better to write that essay or preface, & let it be published among yr collected prose works say after yr death—rather than put it before the poems themselves. I too have "qualms" about this latter. Yr new poems will give value enough to the new edition.

I believe you will stand stronger, Walt, if you stick to yr old way of not explaining unless in a prose essay in a separate volume, as I said.

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. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Kennedy had been writing a defense of Whitman and sent a manuscript of the essay to Whitman on January 16, 1885. Growing impatient, he reminded the poet to answer his letter on March 12. Over two months later, on May 24, Whitman responded, finding the manuscript "all right" as well as "lofty, subtle & true" but suggesting Kennedy add "a criticism on Tennyson and Walt Whitman (or if you prefer on Victor Hugo, T and WW)." [back]


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