Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 12 June 1889

Date: June 12, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03028

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

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Caterina Bernardini, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Belmont
June 12 89.

Dear W. W.:—

The poem came to hand, (on the Johnston calamity1). It adds an important shade of tho't I think to your religious poems yr philosophy. I don't see how you cd do it so quickly. It is firstrate

I did make that condition in my letters to Gardner2—i.e. that my corrections on proofs shd be followed. I only surmised that he might be mean enough to go ahead without me. But I have no real ground to think so. Let him take his time.

We are having a rose carnival. Burroughs's3 curious state of mind is all right. He is happy & moulting. I don't understand him though, do you? I think of Gilder4 often lately, with some satisfaction.


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. In The Commonplace-Book Whitman recorded his thoughts on the Johnstown flood on June 1, 1889: "The most pervading & dreadful news this m'ng is of the strange cataclysm at Johnstown & adjoining Cambria County, Penn: by wh' many thousands of people are overwhelm'd, kill'd by drowning in water, burnt by fire, &c: &c:—all our hearts, the papers & the public interest, are fill'd with it—the most signal & wide-spread horror of the kind ever known in this country—curious that at this very hour, we were having the dinner festivities &c—unaware." C. H. Browning, the Philadelphia representative of the New York World, was instructed by Julius Chambers to ask the poet for "a threnody on the Johnstown dead," which became "A Voice from Death" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, June 5, 1889). The poem was first published in the New York World on June 7, 1889. [back]

2. Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) of Paisley, Scotland, was a publisher who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman; he ultimately published William Sloane Kennedy's Reminiscences of Walt Whitman in 1896 after a long and contentious battle with Kennedy over editing the book. Gardner published and co-edited the Scottish Review from 1882 to 1886. [back]

3. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) was the assistant editor of Scribner's Monthly from 1870 to 1881 and editor of its successor, The Century, from 1881 until his death. Whitman had met Gilder for the first time in 1877 at John H. Johnston's (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: New York University Press, 1955], 482). Whitman attended a reception and tea given by Gilder after William Cullen Bryant's funeral on June 14; see "A Poet's Recreation" in the New York Tribune, July 4, 1878. Whitman considered Gilder one of the "always sane men in the general madness" of "that New York art delirium" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 5, 1888). For more about Gilder, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Richard Watson (1844–1909)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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