Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 10 September 1890

Date: September 10, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03080

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, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Belmont
Eve.
Sept 10, '90.

Dear WW:—

I kept elaborating the Dutch art. It is now in Clement's1 hands (ed. Transcript) & will appear soon I guess.2 I read up Taine's3 rich little "Art–in the Netherlands,"4 &c & have made a racy bit of work I think. I am not much in touch with Miss Gilder5 & her dilettante sheet. So tho't I cd read the proof of article better in Transcript—

I have wanted to say for long that I have read 3 times yr excellent article in Critic.6 Its choice & weighty diction makes us fellows despair. Walt, you have gained not lost one whit, as a prose writer. As for poetry, it must come when man is at the top of his condition you know.

affec
W. S. Kennedy.


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. Edward Henry Clement (1843–1920) of Chelsea, Massachusetts, began his career as a journalist with the Savannah Daily News in the mid-1860s. He later became the editor of the Boston Transcript, a position that he held for twenty-five years. [back]

2. Kennedy is talking about his article called "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman," which he apparently unsuccessfully submitted to the Boston Transcriptand then published in Horace Traubel's Conservator in February 1891; the piece was reprinted in Horace Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned, eds., In Re Walt Whitman( Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 195–199. [back]

3. The French historian and critic Hippolyte Adolphe Taine (1828–1893) is considered to be the originator of literary historianism, and he is also known for applying the scientific method to the humanities and literature. [back]

4. Kennedy is referring to Taine's The Philosophy of Art. Art in the Netherlands. An English translation of the book, by J. Durand, was published by Leypoldt & Holt of New York in 1871. [back]

5. Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916) helped her brother, Richard Watson Gilder, edit Scribner's Monthly and then, with another brother, Joseph Benson Gilder, co-edited the Critic (which she co-founded in 1881). For more, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Jeannette L. (1849–1916)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. The Critic published Whitman's "An Old Man's Rejoinder," on August 16, 1890. The article is a response to John Addington Symonds's essay on "Democratic Art," which was inspired by Whitman. See Symonds, Essays Speculative and Suggestive (London: Chapman and Hall, 1890). [back]


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