Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 17 June 1886

Date: June 17, 1886

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02896

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, "Kennedy," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4

Belmont, Mass1
June 17, 1886.

My Dear Whitman,—

Don't you thik it would be well for you to give me a line to Prof. Dowden,2 telling him that you have read the bibliography of my forthcoming book, and that you think you can commend the work to his careful reading. Also a word of introduction to Symonds,3 in case he will be willing to write an Introduction to it, (the book). I am afraid they will be but dilatory in taking hold of the matter on my request alone,. But a word of introduction from you, worded as you please, would secure their devoted service. There is not a word of criticism in the book; it is solely an enthusiastic eulogy and an interpetation and defence of your whole life, aims, and work,—accompanied by a valuable bibliog. and concordance, with an appendix, and three illustrations. My belief is that it will have a great sale in Great Britain, if it is got before your public there in the right way. For my part, I dislike to ask anyone for to serve as go-between, but you seemed to think it would be wise. Be sure and tell me always how you are. I am just finishing the chapter "Walt W. & his Friends". My roses are superb; have pitched a tent in my yard.

W. S. Kennedy.

Could you answer at once, sending me the letters of introduction?

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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: BELMONT | JUN | 18 | 1886 | MASS; CAMDEN | JUN | 19 | 7AM | 1886 | REC'D. There is one additional, partial postmark, but only the letters "N TRAN" are visible. [back]

2. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors. . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888, Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888, 299). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.