Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 6 May 1889

Date: May 6, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03000

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: Kirby Little, Caterina Bernardini, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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May 6. '891

Dear Walt—:.

Yes; i.e. Baxter2 wrote me an indignant letter—enclosing clipping fr. some N. Y. paper—a hifalutin journalese acc't of the Japanese's outrageous act. It seems, then, that the set of the alleged conversations with you which he gave me was only a copy: I have them now somewhere. The duplicate wh. he retained he has pub.d,—where I can't quite make out, N. Y. Herald I suppose you mean.3 We were very sorry for yr sake: the damage done is irreparable I suppose. You remember, I wrote & warned you that the fellow tried to pub. these things. We were both of us—you & I—too careless. I should have tho't that he might have a duplicate, & your good nature shd not have hindered you writing him peremptorily & severely not to pub.—However, with all my deep chagrin, I cd but laugh (long & well), over little Stedman4 & Holmes (I suppose the Holmes bit came out too). What the frantic-for-notoriety pap. reports is true as gospel, whether you said it or not. How wd it do for me to send to Stedman the card I rec'd fr. you anent yr alleged opinion of him à la Hartmann,5 (in which card you say good things of Stedman, & deny that you hold the Hartmannian opinion) how wd it do for me to send this to Stedman? I was not going to mention the matter to you or to St. But since it has come out so publicly, this card wd serve as a sort of rebuttal & amende perhaps. You say in it "as to my alleged opinion of Stedman: I have no such opinion.6 My feeling toward S. is one of good will & thanks markedly—O'C7 says he is a good fellow, & I say so too."

But no: I wd not dare to send this card. Stedman wd never forgive my trying to comfort him. Ha! ha! The worst of the damnable business is that it shd come so close on the heels of that at bottom warm-hearted (if conceited & patronizing—slightly—) letter of S's to you. Hang it, hang it. Damn these foreign adventurers say I.

I think I shall now pitch overboard fr my book the Hartmannian lading (supplement) entirely.

I have a day off to-day: am resting by varnishing, shellac-ing &c inside—polishing the nacre of the shell.

Glad to hear that the Sarrazin book8 is out. Will make note thereof.

With affec. regards to yrself & the senior members of our masculine comrade-family—the three or four—when you write 'em.
W. S. Kennedy

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: North Cambridge Sta., Mass. | May 7 | 8AM | 1888; Camden, N.J. | May 8 | 10AM | 1888 | Rec'd. [back]

2. Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. In William Sloane Kennedy's manuscript of his projected book on Whitman he recorded the following which "Whitman is said to have said" to the art historian C. Sadakichi Hartmann: "E. C. Stedman is after all nothing more than a sophistical dancing master. If Hercules or Apollo should make their appearance, he would look at them with the eye of a dancing master" (Trent Collection, Duke University). Hartmann attributed the remark to Whitman in the New York Herald on April 14, 1889. It is the publication of this article, which Kennedy feels misrepresents Whitman's words and opinions, that Kennedy is referring to as an "outrageous act" that stands to damage the poet's reputation. [back]

4. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Carl Sadakichi Hartmann (ca. 1867–1944) was an art historian and early critic of photography as an art form. He visited Whitman in Camden in the 1880s and published his conversations with the poet in 1895. Generally unpopular with other supporters of the poet, he was known during his years in Greenwich Village as the "King of Bohemia." For more information about Hartmann, see John F. Roche, "Hartmann, C. Sadakichi (ca. 1867–1944)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Kennedy is referring to a letter that Whitman sent to him on October 20, 1887 in which the poet expressed respect and "good will" toward Stedman. [back]

7. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Kennedy is referring to Gabriel Sarrazin's La Renaissance de la Poésie Anglaise, 1798–1889 (Paris: Perrin, 1889). For Whitman's enthusiastic response to Sarrazin's book, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, May 4, 1889; see also Whitman's May 4, 1889, letter to Karl Knortz. [back]


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