Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 6 August 1890

Date: August 6, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03074

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 August 8:90/," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Office Transcript
Aug 6 '90.

Dear W. W.

It seems so pleasant that dear Walt Whitman is so (comparatively) well, & getting out into the open. Thank you for remembering me in so good a letter.1 I shall see Symonds'2 book as soon as possible.3 Shall watch for [it?] in Athenaeum.4 Having given up general literary contributions myself, too, I have ordered the Critic,5 Open Court,6 Camb. Tribune7 &c stopped. Must look up Critic every week, though. Dr. B.8 & I will bring out my book on you sometime, perhaps sooner than we any of us know. I wrote fr. London Canada, to Fredk Wilson,9 peremptorily ordering him to return my MS to me.10

Do write as often as you can. I have myself absolutely no leisure to speak of, & have acquired a curious distaste for writing—at present.

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. See Whitman's letter to Kennedy of August 4, 1890. [back]

2. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. In Whitman's letter of August 4, 1890, he mentions having "rec'd from Addington Symonds his two new vols: "Essays Speculative & Suggestive"—one of the essays "Democratic Art, with reference to WW." [back]

4. The Athenaeum (1828–1921) was a literary and scientific journal published in London. Norman MacColl (1843–1904) served as editor from 1871 to 1900. [back]

5. The Critic (1881–1906) was a literary magazine co-edited by Joseph Benson Gilder (1858–1936), with his sister Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916). Whitman's poems "The Pallid Wreath" (January 10, 1891) and "To The Year 1889" (January 5, 1889) were first published in The Critic, as was his essay, "An Old Man's Rejoinder" (August 16, 1890), responding to John Addington Symonds's chapter about Whitman in his Essays Speculative and Suggestive (1890). [back]

6. Open Court (1887–1936) was a monthly magazine that published articles on philosophy, religion, and science. Paul Carus (1852–1919), a German-American editor and theologian, edited the magazine from shortly after its founding in 1887 until his death in 1919. [back]

7. The Cambridge Tribune (1878–1966) was a weekly newspaper published in Cambridge, Massachussetts. The paper was founded by D. Gilbert Dexter (1833–1908) and was later sold to William Bailey Howland (1849–1917), the publisher of the weekly magazine The Independent (1848–1928) in New York. [back]

8. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. 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]

10. Kennedy is referring to his manuscript "Walt Whitman, Poet of Humanity." Kennedy had reported in a letter to Whitman of January 2, 1888 that Frederick W. Wilson was willing to publish the study. Kennedy's manuscript eventually became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (1926). Wilson promised to return the manuscript in his letter to Kennedy of February 1, 1888. Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) of Paisley, Scotland, a publisher who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman, ultimately published Reminiscences of Walt Whitman in 1896 after a long and contentious battle with Kennedy over editing the book. [back]


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