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William Sloane Kennedy to Walt Whitman, 1 February 1891

 loc.03169.001.jpg Dear WW.1

Every emendation of yrs is good. I rather doubted at first yr sub-head. But I guess it's better than mine, (wh' was too big-headed for the main structure). Your other touches give accuracy to my over-statements. Really I was unfit to treat subject2 Howsomever, we've together hammered out a bit of wrought-iron work of some value. I never said anything just like it for fact-iness. The thing grew upon both of us, as we went on. Somebody ought to write a scholarly-picturesque thorough & exhaustive history of the Dutch-Americans. I wish I were rich enough. I wd. go to Albany & the pastoral horse-raising regions of New York State, & to N.Y. City & L. Island, & study the Dutch people at first hand. I remember years ago I had a splendid clean young Dutch commercial fellow as a pupil in Brooklyn, N.Y. I taught him English through the medium chiefly of German.

W.S.K.  loc.03169.002.jpg

Did you see my snow study "Tumultuous Privacy, last monday in Transcript3 p. 6?4

I'm afraid with that rebellious bowel business your experience must be something like that of an old Scotchman I heard of who was opposed to having water closets in the middle of a house.

"Mr Whatcomb [Whitcomb]" said he, "I dont like 'em. A man can't make a bet of wund without being heard all over the house"!

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. Kennedy did not date this letter. In the upper right-hand corner of the letter, Horace Traubel has written: "see notes Feb 3 | 1891." Edwin Haviland Miller dates the letter February 1 in his footnotes Whitman's January 20–21, 1891, letter to Kennedy (See n4). [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. Kennedy may have been alluding to the subject of his "snow study" piece, which had just been published in the Transcript, at the end of his letter to Whitman on January 19, 1891. In that letter, Kennedy states: "I do a good many editorial jottings & review Belmont theatricals always for Transcript. We have had a magic ice-spectacle here—trees all candied." [back]
  • 4. The question part of this postscript appears in the right-hand margin at the top of the letter. [back]
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