Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy, 24 May 1885

Date: May 24, 1885

Whitman Archive ID: rut.00005

Source: Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. 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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "[Poet as a Craftsman]," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein and Kyle Barton

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328 Mickle St.
Camden NJ
May 24 '85

Dear friend

The long MS you sent me some months since is all right & I will return it to you forthwith—The whole drift of it is lofty, subtle & true—I would not put it out by itself—Such things never strike in so well in the abstract as in illustration, of some definite personal, critical concrete thing.—I suggest to you a criticism on Tennyson and Walt Whitman (or if you prefer on Victor Hugo, T and WW) where they should be work'd in—What think you?1


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). Apparently Kennedy had 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. On January 16 Kennedy sent the manuscript of "The New Ars Poetica," in which he attempted to defend Whitman's poetic style. On June 2 he accepted Whitman's suggestion of expanding his article. This essay became part of The Poet as A Craftsman (see the letter from Whitman to Kennedy of December 2, 1885). [back]


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