Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 9 April 1887

Date: April 9, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02919

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

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

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Dear W.W.1

Rhys2 writes that Wilson3 is very ill, & will have to put off the book till fall.4 So R. is in the mean time going to see if he can make it go with a London publisher, still keeping a hold on Wilson.

I have just had an idea—rather wild perhaps—i.e. to have the English authors—who I hear contemplate getting up a W.W. Testimonial Vol.—combine their contributions with mine—mine to follow theirs in order of printing.

I have proposed this to Rhys.

Camden Courier rec'd. Bon Voyage to New York!5

April 9 '87.

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. Kennedy has written this letter on a United States Letter Sheet Envelope. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Belmont | Apr | 11 | Mass; [illegible] | 1887 | Rec'd. [back]

2. Ernest Rhys (1859–1946) wrote on May 31, 1885: "Let me say simply in a young man's way to you who are an old man now, how dearly and earnestly I think of you across the sea to-night, remembering the Past, looking on to the great to-morrow, for perhaps of all young men you have helped me most powerfully & perfectly." On July 7, 1885 Rhys proposed a one-shilling edition of Whitman's poetry in The Canterbury Poets series. On September 25–29 Rhys wrote for the third time after waiting "for a reply so far in vain," and included the payment from Walter Scott, the English publisher of The Canterbury Poets. On Rhys's letter Whitman wrote: "the little English selection from L. of G. is out since, & the whole edition (10,000) sold." For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Frederick W. Wilson was a member of the Glasgow firm of Wilson & McCormick that published the 1883 British edition of Specimen Days and Collect[back]

4. Kennedy worked incessantly on his "book" and frequently alerted Whitman that it was about to come out, but his two books on Whitman did not appear until years after the poet's death. [back]

5. Whitman left for New York less than a week later to deliver his lecture on Lincoln as well as sit for the photographer G. C. Cox and the portrait painter Dora Wheeler. [back]


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