Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 14 September 1890

Date: September 14, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03082

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, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



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Sund. '901

Have just read the piece of our little spectacled brother Symond2 on W W. As before his plain utterance seemed to you, so now to me. This seems somehow comic—so inadequate is it & "off." Yet there is some good weft in the shoddy—a little. S. lacks healthy contact with the live world. Did you ever hear that the Booths3 were of Dutch origin? Mrs K.4 is sure she read it. I have searched all the books in vain, tho' I find a little Welsh blood in their family. What curious blood—heating broad-fanned South winds! Have been dipping into Boccaccio.5 He is a healthy fellow, but his stories are too much for any flesh. My imagination is too vivid. I have to throw him aside.


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. This postal card is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Boston.Mass | Sep 15 | 9-30AM | 1890; Camden, N.J. | Sep 16 | 9am | 1890 | Rec'd. [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 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. Edwin Thomas Booth (1833–1893) was an American actor, famous for performing Shakespeare in the U.S. and Europe, the son of actor Junius Brutus Booth (1796–1852), and the brother of Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865), also an actor. He was the owner of Booth's Theatre in New York. [back]

4. Kennedy's wife was Adeline Ella Lincoln (d. 1923) of Cambridge, Massachusetts. They married on June 17, 1883. The couple's son Mortimer died in infancy. [back]

5. Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) was an Italian writer and poet best known for his works The Decameron and On Famous Women[back]


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