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William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 29 January 1889


Thank you for yr good letter. I appreciate such immensely (& you all, too). I agree with you that Sarrazin article2 (and I take him to be a young or middle-aged man) is powerful. It took me several days to absorb it and make my extracts &c. The man got such a grip on his subject, had it all at his fingers' e[cut away] understands you & loves you. This is as it shd be—We need such apostles in Europe; and more will be sure to appear.3 I notice in the Nuova Antolgia4 author Italian, Chiarini5; mentions you, as being familiar with L. of G. I am re-reading Robert Browning6 a little.

I am anxious abt that health of yrs, yet thankful it is no worse. Dont you think you are sometimes a little cold and repressive? When I visite[cut away] you I suppose you tho't: "well here's another spier & critic & drew in yr horns. I want yr personal love; the book I write chiefly to gain that [cut away] if it tends to make hearty sympathy impossible I wd rather pitch it into the sea. (I fear my digestion must be poor to-night judging from the tone of the foregoing!) Had a card fr Rhys7 lately.—yes I think F W. Wilson8 was scared by Gardner.9 We shall see. I keep toiling away kicking my MS into shape,10 adding touches &c &c

W S Kennedy  loc.02966.002.jpg

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. There is a diagonal line drawn through this letter in blue crayon. [back]
  • 2. Gabriel Sarrazin's "Poetes modernes de l'Amerique, Walt Whitman," which appeared in La Nouvelle Revue, 52 (May 1, 1888), 164–184. Whitman had asked both William Sloane Kennedy and Richard Maurice Bucke to make an abstract in English of it (see Whitman's letter to Kennedy of January 22, 1889, and to Bucke of January 27, 1889). Sarrazin's piece is reprinted in an English translation by Harrison S. Morris in In Re (1893, pp. 159–94). Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France, who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 609. [back]
  • 3. In a letter to Richard Maurice Bucke of January 29, 1889, Whitman describes Sarrazin's article as "ardent & penetrative & eulogistic." [back]
  • 4. Nuova Antologia is an Italian quarterly journal devoted to science, letters, and the arts, founded in 1866 in Florence. [back]
  • 5. Giuseppe Chiarini (1833–1908) was an Italian literary critic. [back]
  • 6. Robert Browning (1812–1889) was one of the foremost Victorian poets and playwrights, and was married to the famous poet Elizabeth Barret Browning (G. K. Chesterton, Robert Browning [New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1908]. [back]
  • 7. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. Frederick W. Wilson was a member of the Glasgow firm of Wilson & McCormick that published the 1883 British edition of Specimen Days and Collect. [back]
  • 9. Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) of Paisley, Scotland, was a publisher who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman; he ultimately published William Sloane Kennedy's Reminiscences of Walt Whitman in 1896 after a long and contentious battle with Kennedy over editing the book. Gardner published and co-edited the Scottish Review from 1882 to 1886. [back]
  • 10. Kennedy's manuscript eventually became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (1926). [back]
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