Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 3 October 1889

Date: October 3, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07728

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.

Related item: On the back of this letter from Kennedy, Whitman wrote a letter dated March 6, 1890, to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke. See loc.07729.

Contributors to digital file: Ashlyn Stewart, Zainab Saleh, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock

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Squirrel preserve
Cat meadow.
Oct 3. 89

Dear Old Quaker Friend of the horse-taming sea kings of Long Island:

My thorn first writes me a scrawl saying she had a pleasant call on you. After receiving yr somewhat melancholy card saying that "they all came" in on you, preachers & all, I felt rather sorry I asked her to go. But I'm glad she did. She visits always in Philad. at house of her friend Mrs. Leslie Miller.1 'Lel' the Husband2 runs a city school of design up there near Girard College,3 or nearer the synagogue on Broad St. Well he used to be a progressive man when young & in Boston, wore slouch hats, long hair & read Whitman. But he has grown contemptibly conforming, conventional, since going to Philad, married, & 2 childn. He drew those pictures of yr home for my book; but takes the blackguard view of you. My dame laid him out flat after calling on you. She can do such things, is keen as steel. She writes me he will never mention you again to her. He told me once (he is realy good fellow at heart) that he actually saw you in a livery stable, several times!!! I wanted to ask him if that was not the place for an artistling to be occasionally, too, & and if Rosa Bonheur4 & Meissonier5 wd n't be apt to be seen a great deal in stables.

When a poor librarian 'tother day thrust that gigantic snob R.G. White's6 pitiful parody7 of L of G. in my face & thot he had floord me, he said he ahd heard that Edwin Arnold8 had been calling on you & tried again to like L. of G. &— couldn't—aw!

please excuse clipping of Transcripts. I have to do it for my writings now.

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. Little is known about Sarah Maria Persons Miller (b. ca. 1845). She and her husband Leslie William Miller (1848–1931) lived in Philadelphia. They had two children: Percy Chase Miller and Arthur P. Miller. [back]

2. Leslie William Miller (1848–1931) was born in Brattleboro, Vermont, and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Massachusetts College of Art. From 1880 until his retirement in 1920, Miller was principal of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia. He was a friend of the Philadelphia painter Thomas Eakins, who painted his portrait in 1901. For more information, see his obituary, "Dr. Leslie W. Miller Dies in Massachusetts," The Philadelphia Inquirer (March 8, 1931), 23. [back]

3. Girard College is a private preparatory school located in Philadelphia and founded by French-born shipping magnate Stephen Girard (1750–1831). Sometimes called the "father of philanthropy," Girard was one of the wealthiest men in American history. The college was founded after his death and continues to provide full scholarships for students through his endowment. Its campus is roughly two miles from the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, now known as University of the Arts. For more information, see George Wilson, Stephen Girard: The Life And Times Of America's First Tycoon (Conshohocken: Combined Books, 1995). [back]

4. Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899) was a French Realist painter and sculptor. Her work often features farm and barnyard animals, and Bonheur was well-known for wearing men's clothing, which she attributed to her research in stables. In 1865, Bonheur became the first woman to receive the Grand-croix of the French Légion d'honneur. Bonheur was openly involved in two romantic relationships with women. She and her first partner, Nathalie Micas (1824–1889), lived together for over forty years until Micas's death. Bonheur was then romantically involved with American painter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke (1856–1942). Bonheur, Micas, and Klumpke are buried side-by-side in Paris's Père Lachaise Cemetery. For more information, see Dore Asheton and Denise Browne Hare, Rosa Bonheur: A Life and a Legend (New York: Viking, 1981). [back]

5. Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier (1815–1891) was a French painter and sculptor known chiefly for his depictions of military subjects on horseback. Meissonier intended to produce a five-painting cycle depicting the career of Napoleon, only two of which were completed, but they have become his most recognizable works: Campagne de France, 1814 (1864) and 1807, Friedland (1861–1875). For more information, see Marc J. Gotlieb, The Plight of Emulation: Ernest Meissonier and French Salon Painting (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996). [back]

6. Richard Grant White (1822–1885) was a New York writer, journalist, and Shakespeare scholar. White served as an editor with various papers, including the New York Courier and Enquirer and the New York World. Interested in many fields, White published one novel, The Fate of Mansfield Humphries (1884), a philological textbook Words and their Uses (1870), and a travel guide England From Without and Within (1881). White also edited the anthology, Poetry, Lyrical, Narrative and Satirical, of the Civil War, that includes some of his parody and satire poems. For more information, see Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States, Volume 7, ed. John Howard Brown (Boston, MA: Federal Book Company, 1903), 572. [back]

7.  [back]

8. Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904) was an English poet and journalist. He visited Whitman in 1889 and in 1891. He documented his visit to Whitman in an article entitled "Sir Edwin Arnold and Whitman" that was published anonymously in The Springfield Republican on November 7, 1891. [back]


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