Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 23 August 1890

Date: August 23, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03077

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Belmont
Aug 23. Sat 6½ &c
1890.

Dear Friend:

Thank you very much for yr flattering suggestion anent writing on the Dutch outflashings1 &c. I shd be glad of the points fr you any time, & think they wd be the only part of value. But I agree with you as to letting one's thought drop mellow from the bough of the wind; & I must say that I have as yet but vague—shimmering ideas or sense—perceptions as to WW.'s Dutch aspects. But I shall look up Motley2 & Manahattan &c, when I can, & perhaps something of value may emerge.

Logan Smith3 is a grand good fellow.

It seems nice to think of that good comb-honey of your'n. I have put up in glass 60 jars of currants & huckleberries & have bought today 24 cans of Golden Gate peaches (the best—delicious). I must have fruit, or I suffer much.

———

It is raining this evening—a good aeonian drench—dreamy & misty & dim—we have a sweet young girl4 visiting us, fresh & pure & happy.

———

I was quite amused to see my letter about the G.A.R. in the Camden paper5—not amused I mean but willing. I never wrote anything, as Ruskin6 says, that all the world are not welcome to read.

I tho't the most profound and suggestive thought on yr recent article was that about the need of a reconstruction of our ideas of beauty.7 I shall ponder that.

———

I find they have Symonds's8 new vol.9 at the Athenaeum now, & I am going to watch for it every day until I get it, tho' mind you, I dont expect to be anything but dissatisfied and supercilious over it.

affec.
W.S. Kennedy

Don't see Baxter10 somehow. He is a very secretive mystifying man,—is good Baxy.

———

The women are irrupting into journalism & crowding out the men here in Boston.

———

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. Kennedy's "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman" was published in The Conservator 1 (February 1891), 90–91. It was reprinted in In Re Walt Whitman, ed. Horace Traubel, et al. (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 195–199. [back]

2. John Lothrop Motley (1814–1877) was an American author and diplomat, serving as U.S. Minister to Austria (1861–1867) and the United Kingdom (1869–1870). He wrote two popular histories of the Netherlands: The Rise of the Dutch Republic (1856) and The United Netherlands (1867). [back]

3. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was an essayist and literary critic. He was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith, a minister and writer who befriended Whitman, and he was the brother of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, one of Whitman's most avid followers. For more information on Logan, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

5. Kennedy described the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) convention on August 12, 1890, and evidently sent a clipping from the Boston Herald. Apparently, Whitman sent the letter to a Camden newspaper. [back]

6. John Ruskin (1819–1900) was one of the leading art critics in Victorian Great Britain. Whitman sent Leaves of Grass and a "couple of photographs" to Ruskin via William Harrison Riley in March 1879 (see the letter from Whitman to Riley of March 18, 1879). Ruskin, according to Whitman, expressed "worry [...] that [Leaves is] too personal, too emotional, launched from the fires of [...] spinal passions, joys, yearnings" (see the letter from Whitman to William O'Connor of October 7, 1882). Whitman, late in life, said to Horace Traubel: "[I] take my Ruskin with some qualifications." Still, Ruskin "is not to be made little of: is of unquestionable genius and nobility" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 24, 1889). [back]

7. Kennedy is responding to "An Old Man's Rejoinder," which appeared in The Critic 17 (August 16, 1890), 85–86. The "Rejoinder" was later reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) (see Prose Works 1892, Volume 2: Collect and Other Prose, ed. Floyd Stovall [New York: New York University Press, 1964], 655–658). Near the end of the essay, Whitman writes: "My own opinion has long been, that for New World service our ideas of beauty (inherited from the Greeks, and so on to Shakspere—query—perverted from them?) need to be radically changed, and made anew for to-day's purposes and finer standards" (2:658). [back]

8. 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 Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Kennedy is referring to John Addington Symonds's Essays Speculative and Suggestive (London: Chapman and Hall, 1890). The chapter on "Democratic Art" is mainly inspired by Whitman. [back]

10. 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]


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