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William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 26 January 1890

 loc.03056.001_large.jpg Dear Poet:—

Please tell Traubel2 that Hurd3 has looked hastily at the Danish piece4 & pronounces it highly complimentary. But he was instantly called away by the death of his mother, & will not be able to report more fully till his return.

We all have more or less of cold in the head & throat, but are otherwise well. Am going in to Athenaeum this afternoon to look up & read some of O'Connor's5 stories. My Whittier6 is in Funk & Wagnall's safe & is highly complimented by the editor of the series.7 So glad you are doing tolerably well. I'm off for eggs now.

bye–bye. W. S. Kennedy.  loc.03056.002_large.jpg  loc.03056.003_large.jpg  loc.03056.004_large.jpg W. S. Kennedy8 | Belmont | Mass

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 letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Registered | Boston, Mass. | Jan. 27, 1890 | No. 8359. [back]
  • 2. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Charles E. Hurd (1833–1910) of New Hampshire was a jouralist and author. He served as the literature editor for the Boston Transcript newspaper from 1874 to 1901. [back]
  • 4. Danish author Knut Hamsun had published his lecture on Whitman, given in the Copenhagen Student Union in 1889, as Fra det moderne Amerikas Aandsliv. It was hardly "highly complimentary" but rather quite critical and dismissive of Whitman as a serious poet. [back]
  • 5. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892) earned fame as a staunch advocate for the abolition of slavery. As a poet, he employed traditional forms and meters, and, not surprisingly, he was not an admirer of Whitman's unconventional prosody. For Whitman's view of Whittier, see the poet's numerous comments throughout the nine volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden (various publishers: 1906–1996) and Whitman's "My Tribute to Four Poets," in Specimen Days (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882–'83), 180–181. [back]
  • 7. Kennedy is referring to his work John G. Whittier, The Poet of Freedom, which was published by Funk & Wagnalls Company of New York as part of their American Reformers Series in 1892. [back]
  • 8. Kennedy noted his address on the verso of the envelope. [back]
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