Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 16 January 1885

Date: January 16, 1885

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02600

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, "good letter—from W S Kennedy," "85," and "(over)," are in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, and Kyle Barton

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Jan 16 84

Dear W.W.

I send you by this mail my paper—"The New Ars Poetica"1

I want you to read it, &, if you think best, ask McKay2 to bring it out for us.

I have a strong & even strange feeling of the educative and epoch-making nature of your style (poetical); & I am confident that my essay will do great good. I want all the chief American & especially the English poets to have copies. Nothing in the world, I believe, stands so much in the way of the greater sale of yr "Leaves" as the idea among people that your style is ridiculous & unpoetical. The laugh, I find, is always raised by this the first thing. If [they cd ?] have good authority or rendered reason & proof that the style was true to nature & good in itself, other difficulties wd easily melt away.

I have examined all literary sources, but have had to work out the subject—in the main, by slow & painful original steps. What do you think of my performance? I wish the [libret?] might even be bound. It ought to sell a small edition. Can you interest some moneyed fellow in it?

as ever yrs
W. S. Kennedy.

Last p.

Can't you write me something yourself on the all important subject? Come: that wd sell the brochure sure. Write it to me, say, in the form of a letter which I then print by yr permission. Do you see?

Do exert yourself in the matter if you feel able. I believe it wd give you a money return. We shd get people to talking at a great rate. Especially if you are quoted as saying something philosophical on the subject; something new, in addition to that in preface & yr first quarto.


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). Apparently Kennedy had 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 New Ars Poetica" was Kennedy's attempt at defending Walt Whitman's poetic style. On June 2 he accepted Whitman's suggestion of expanding his article. The essay became part of The Poet as A Craftsman (see the letter from Whitman to Kennedy of December 2, 1885). [back]

2. David McKay was Whitman's publisher at the time. [back]


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