Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 15 September 1889

Date: September 15, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03050

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.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Breanna Himschoot, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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Sept 15 '89
(Sunday afternoon)

Dear Walt:—

I never meant my last poor postal to be the answer to yr kind page-letter.1 And now that I am taking a vacation of six weeks to write the bk I told you of, I must bore you with a letter—just to say how'd'e, & to tell you that my staunch little dame, my brave frau[kin?] is going to make a little visiting tour, & will some day make you a little call (second reading: a profusion of "little's" in here by mistake!) (in abt' two 2 weeks) if agreeable. She is of the cheery-shy kind, & will do you good. But if it shd so happen that you shd not feel like seeing anybody on the day she comes, she wants me to say that she will not feel in the least grudgy—any more than I shall, [ever?], if I shall happen to knock at yr door on the wrong day.

I feel like myself again, now I am out for a vacation—like a man escaped fr. the penitentiary. I inquired at the stores for Liberty, but it is not to be had at any of the news stands in Boston, no satire intended! (second reading of this over) I will stop in to see "Ben" himself next time I go in.—Traubel2 has not written me for some time. I miss his letters.

Hooray! for my freedom! [Here I cut a caper] Now for six weeks of thought.

I wrote to F. Wilson yesterday, asking him to either report on ms, or return to me.3


I feel that I have broadened & deepened my knowledge of human nature amazingly by the past two years of shoulder to shoulder work with the (to me) entirely hitherto unfamiliar class of skilled city mechanics (& proof-readers). I feel much stronger in digestion & in sinew, & in character; self-reliant: nothing like it: to be able to snap yr fingers at cant, compromise, the sneaks of the profession, &c.


Our kitten is lovely: I have propagated, from the slips, ten new choice roses, & they are now 5 inches high. My gloire di Dijon rose has grown 12 feet high in many rigorous shoots.


Have you got hold of those D'Artágnan romances of Dumas?4 I think you wd find them a good anodyne—almost as good as Scott.5 Manly adventure is the theme—and love. But especially comradeship: it is yr calamus doctrine embodied in a faint & inferior degree (the Gallic nature is not so deep in the affectional nature as the German you know)

good by dear friend, & much love fr yrs always
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. Kennedy is referring to his September 5, 1889, postal card to Whitman. [back]

2. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," 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. Kennedy's manuscript was one of several drafts of what became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (1926). For Whitman's conflicting opinions of Kennedy's study, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, August 18, 1888[back]

4. Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870) was a French author known best for his works The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo[back]

5. 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 Whitman's view of 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]


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