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William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 14 September 1890


Have just read the piece of our little spectacled brother Symond2 on W W. As before his plain utterance seemed to you, so now to me. This seems somehow comic—so inadequate is it & "off." Yet there is some good weft in the shoddy—a little. S. lacks healthy contact with the live world. Did you ever hear that the Booths3 were of Dutch origin? Mrs K.4 is sure she read it. I have searched all the books in vain, tho' I find a little Welsh blood in their family. What curious blood—heating broad-fanned South winds! Have been dipping into Boccaccio.5 He is a healthy fellow, but his stories are too much for any flesh. My imagination is too vivid. I have to throw him aside.

W. S. K.  loc.03082.001.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. This postal card is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Boston.Mass | Sep 15 | 9-30AM | 1890; Camden, N.J. | Sep 16 | 9am | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Edwin Thomas Booth (1833–1893) was an American actor, famous for performing Shakespeare in the U.S. and Europe, the son of actor Junius Brutus Booth (1796–1852), and the brother of Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865), also an actor. He was the owner of Booth's Theatre in New York. [back]
  • 4. Kennedy's wife was Adeline Ella Lincoln (d. 1923) of Cambridge, Massachusetts. They married on June 17, 1883. The couple's son Mortimer died in infancy. [back]
  • 5. Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) was an Italian writer and poet best known for his works The Decameron and On Famous Women. [back]
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