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William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 10 September 1890

 loc.03080.001.jpg Dear WW:—

I kept elaborating the Dutch art. It is now in Clement's1 hands (ed. Transcript) & will appear soon I guess.2 I read up Taine's3 rich little "Art–in the Netherlands,"4 &c & have made a racy bit of work I think. I am not much in touch with Miss Gilder5 & her dilettante sheet. So tho't I cd read the proof of article better in Transcript—

I have wanted to say for long that I have read 3 times yr excellent article in Critic.6 Its choice & weighty diction makes us fellows despair. Walt, you have gained not lost one whit, as a prose writer. As for poetry, it must come when man is at the top of his condition you know.

affec W. S. Kennedy.  loc.03080.002.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. Edward Henry Clement (1843–1920) of Chelsea, Massachusetts, began his career as a journalist with the Savannah Daily News in the mid-1860s. He later became the editor of the Boston Transcript, a position that he held for twenty-five years, from 1881 to 1906. [back]
  • 2. Kennedy is referring to his article called "Dutch Traits of Walt Whitman," which he apparently unsuccessfully submitted to the Boston Transcript and then published in Horace Traubel's Conservator in February 1891. The piece was reprinted in Horace Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned, eds., In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 195–199. [back]
  • 3. The French historian and critic Hippolyte Adolphe Taine (1828–1893) is considered to be the originator of literary historianism, and he is also known for applying the scientific method to the humanities and literature. [back]
  • 4. Kennedy is referring to Taine's The Philosophy of Art. Art in the Netherlands. An English translation of the book, by J. Durand, was published by Leypoldt & Holt of New York in 1871. [back]
  • 5. Jeannette Leonard Gilder (1849–1916) helped her brother, Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909), edit Scribner's Monthly and then, with another brother, Joseph Benson Gilder (1858–1936), co-edited the Critic (which she co-founded in 1881). For more, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Jeannette L. (1849–1916)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. The Critic published Whitman's "An Old Man's Rejoinder," on August 16, 1890. The article is a response to John Addington Symonds's essay on "Democratic Art," which was inspired by Whitman. See Symonds, Essays Speculative and Suggestive (London: Chapman and Hall, 1890). [back]
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