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William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 16 January 1885

 loc.02600.001_large.jpg good letter—from W S Kennedy 85 (over) Dear W.W.

I send you by this mail my paper—"The New Ars Poetica"1

I want you to read it, &, if you think best, ask McKay2 to bring it out for us.

I have a strong & even strange feeling of the educative and epoch-making nature of your style (poetical); & I am confident that my essay will do great good. I want all the chief American & especially the English poets to have copies. Nothing in the world, I believe, stands so much in  loc.02600.002_large.jpg  loc.02600.003_large.jpg the way of the greater sale of yr "Leaves" as the idea among people that your style is ridiculous & unpoetical. The laugh, I find, is always raised by this the first thing. If they cd have good authority or rendered reason & proof that the style was true to nature & good in itself, other difficulties wd easily melt away.

I have examined all literary sources, but have had to work out the subject—in the main, by slow & painful original steps. What do you think of my performance? I wish the libret might even be bound. It ought to sell a small edition. Can you interest some moneyed fellow in it?

as ever yrs W. S. Kennedy.  loc.02600.004_large.jpg

Last p.

Can't you write me something yourself on the all important subject? Come: that wd sell the brochure sure. Write it to me, say, in the form of a letter which I then print by yr permission. Do you see?

Do exert yourself in the matter if you feel able. I believe it wd give you a money return. We shd get people to talking at a great rate. Especially if you are quoted as saying something philosophical on the subject; something new, in addition to that in preface & yr first quarto.


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. "The New Ars Poetica" was Kennedy's attempt at defending Walt Whitman's poetic style. On June 2 he accepted Whitman's suggestion of expanding his article. The essay became part of The Poet as A Craftsman (see the letter from Whitman to Kennedy of December 2, 1885). [back]
  • 2. David McKay was Whitman's publisher at the time. [back]
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