Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 18 May 1889

Date: May 18, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03011

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, "See Notes May 1889," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Caterina Bernardini, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



page image
image 1
page image
image 2


May 18. 891

Dear Walt:

Look out for Stepniak's remark on you in to-day's Transcript.2" L. of G. is one of his favorites, he says. How pitiful is Howells'3 recent depreciation of Walter Scott.4 Who is Howells I shd like to know, to judge the mighty Walter [Scot?]?5


W. S. K.


Correspondent:
William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow 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 [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).

Notes:

1. This postal card is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. [back]

2. Harriet Stanton Blatch's article on and interview the Ukranian revolutionary, socialist, and nihilist Sergius Stepniak (1851–1895), then living in London, appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript on May 18, 1889. [back]

3. William Dean Howells (1837–1920) was an American realist novelist and literary critic, serving the staff of the New York Nation and Harper's Magazine during the mid 1860s. During his tenure as editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Monthly from 1871 to 1880, he was one of the foremost critics in New York, and used his influence to support American authors like Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, and Emily Dickinson. He also brought attention to European authors like Henrik Ibsen, Giovanni Verga, and Leo Tolstoy in particular. Howells was highly skeptical of Whitman's poetry, however, and frequently questioned his literary merit. In an Ashtabula Sentinel review of the 1860 edition Leaves of Grass, Howells wrote, "If he is indeed 'the distinctive poet of America,' then the office of poet is one which must be left hereafter to the shameless and the friendless. for WALT WHITMAN is not a man whom you would like to know." In 1865, Howells would write the first important review of Drum-Taps in the Round Table, demonstrating early signs of his conflicted opinion about Whitman. For more information on Howells, see Goodman, Susan & Dawson, Carl, William Dean Howells: A Writer's Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).  [back]

4. Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) was a Scottish statesman, historical novelist, playwright, and poet, best known for Ivanhoe (1820), The Lady of the Lake (1810), and Waverly (1814). For more on Scott, see Vickie L. Taft, "Scott, Sir Walter (1771)–1832)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. For Whitman's reaction to Stepniak's article and Kennedy's comments on Howells, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 21, 1889[back]


Comments?

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

Support the Archive | About the Archive

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