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Whitmaniana Memorial Collection by William Sloane Kennedy

Identifier: SP-Whitman

Scope and Contents

The collection contains the correspondence and papers, both personal and business, of William Sloane Kennedy. Many of his rough drafts, proofs, and final published copies of articles, poetry, essays, and books are represented in the collection. His interest in a broad range of topics is well documented by files of clippings and articles. Throughout his adult life he maintained the habit of keeping journals and notebooks to record information on his research, travel, and literary studies; seventy-one of these journals and notebooks and three scrapbooks cover the years from 1870 to 1928. Photographs and illustrations of many people and places were accumulated by Kennedy, and are also included in the collection.


  • Other: Majority of material found in 1870-1929


Conditions Governing Access

Open access

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished records are protected by copyright. Permission to publish or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.

Biographical or Historical Information

THE WILLIAM SLOANE KENNEDY MEMORIAL COLLECTION OF WHITMANIANA "As I see more of Sloane, I am impressed with his strong, remarkable, moral nature - his moral intellectual nature if I may call it; and when I speak of his moral nature, I don't mean morals but that highest something which makes life steadfast and ample ... " - Walt Whitman in Camden So spoke WhItman about his fnend William Sloane Kennedy on whose life he had made a deep impression. Kennedy admired and revered the genius in Whitman as much as he was fond of the person. His opus magnum The Fight of the Book for the World and his Reminiscences of WaIt Whitman attest to this. William Sloane Kennedy was 29 years old when he met Walt Whitman. He had just written the poem Fireflies, an experiment in verses without terminal rhymes, when an acquaintance brought him a copy of Leaves of Grass. Kennedy wrote that when he read it he: " ... was wild with enthusiasm and wrote an account of the Whitman poetry and philosophy for the Californian, which I sent to Walt. He read it and was impressed with it and sent me a Christmas present of his book. I was charmed by his kindness and became from that moment a devoted disciple till his death." 1 In his biographical notes for Grover, Kennedy writes of his employment as journalist for The American in Philadelphia. During this time he often took the ferry to call on Whitman. He describes that he was "being possessed by a strange and inwardly fiery feeling and love for the man, which I never felt for any other.'" They would walk over to Philadelphia, Walt leaning on Kennedy, and they had wonderful conversations during these walks. He remembers that Whitman never spoke ill of anyone, which was in contrast to Kennedy's caustic nature. During the eighties Kennedy worked for the Transcript and wrote his biographies of Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes and others. In 1896, four years after Whitman's death, he saw his Reminiscences of WaIt Whitman published in England and Scotland. Whitman had read the manuscript and approved of it. During the same year, Kennedy published his The Fight of a Book for the World. In it he not only gave tribute to Whitman, but also described the reception Leaves of Grass received here and abroad. When Kennedy was in the United States, it was his habit to escape the northern winters in either California or Winter Park, Florida, where he met and befriended Grover. Rollins College's President Hamilton Holt had made him Professor of Books and Director of the College Library. Grover persuaded Kennedy to leave the College a legacy to memorialize his friendship with Whitman. At first Kennedy was not too keen on the idea of giving a college or university anything, since he had a lasting antipathy for academic institutions. Grover, ever so persistent, persuaded him that an endowment fund for Whitman books, to be housed in the College's Library, would be an appropriate memorial to the Whitman-Kennedy friendship. Reluctantly, Kennedy asked Grover to write something that could become a codicil to the Kennedy will. Grover eagerly drafted a document which in essence bequeathed the residue of the estate to Rollins. The College would pay Mrs. Foote, Kennedy's sister, a five percent interest on the fund as a life time revenue. Kennedy was neither satisfied nor amused by this suggestion. His lawyer wrote a bequest for an endowment of $10,000 into Kennedy's will, which would come to Rollins College after Mrs. Foote's death. The interest of the Fund was to be spent exclusively for books by and about Walt Whitman. Shortly before his death Kennedy signed the altered will. Kennedy's bequest was received by Rollins College in 1930, and for the rest of his life Grover watched over the Fund's expenditures. He constantly fought faculty and administrators who wished to divert Kennedy Fund money to purchase books in other fields. Rollins, like many other small Liberal Arts institutions, experienced serious financial difficulties during the thirties and the Library's annual budgets were barely equal to the yearly income of the Kennedy Fund. Grover's successor, William F. Yust, tried desperately to use some of the Kennedy money for urgent purchases that would support the general curriculum. He even went so far as to contact Judge Harvey F. Remington, President of the Rochester, New York, Public Library, for a legal interpretation of Kennedy's will. 3 Grover did not waste time either. He wrote to many prominent library directors, asking for their expert opinions about the administration of endowment funds and gathered a respectable corpus of support letters for buying only books by and about Whitman. When the Duke University Library announced the gift of their Whitman Collection in 1943, Rollins Librarian Joseph D. Ibbotson tried again to divert monies from the Kennedy Fund to general book purchases. 4 His reasoning was that the substantial collection at Duke would fulfill research demands within the Southern States, and there was no need for Rollins to compete with building a collection that would never equal the one at Duke. President Holt, under pressure from Grover, upheld the ruling that the Fund can be spent only for Whitmania (sic).5 Grover always wanted to have a first edition of the Leaves of Grass for the Collection. In 1935 he had the opportunity to acquire one from the estate of Katherine Holland Brown, the novelist who had died in Orlando several years previously. The book was valued then at $2000 and the income from the Fund was only $400 annually. Grover tried to manipulate the Library Committee and the seller of the estate to agree to a deal to pay for the book in yearly installments of $200 each but Rollins Librarian Yust refused his consent to it. This was not the end of the story. Grover tenaciously kept pushing for the purchase. The College finally bought the Brown copy of Leaves of Grass in January 1945 from Harry Brown, cousin of Katherine Brown for the sum of $500. 6 Grover retired in 1951 at the age of 81. Until his death in 1965, he was 94 then, he held on to his self-appointed authority over the Kennedy Fund. One of the valuable purchases he negotiated, was a group of Henry Scholey Saunders items, many of them typewritten and mimeographed and bound by Saunders' careful hand. In general, the collection is eclectic. After Grover's death, the selection of items to be bought rested mainly with the librarians, who did solicit suggestions from the English department. When Charles Feinberg and William White visited the Rollins Library in 1980 to view the Collection, they were pleased with what they saw, especially the Traubel and Bucke typescripts found favor. Both gentlemen contributed to the Collection through gifts from their holdings. During the past twenty-five years, the collection policy has been to buy all current items contributing to Whitman scholarship, but not to pursue the Antiquarian Market for extravagant purchases. The only exception to this rule was the addition of a postcard written by Whitman to William Sloane Kennedy. When Kennedy agreed to make his bequest, he spent little time thinking about the details connected with the gift. To him it was a monument to the poet and to their friendship. Rollins College is glad to share the use of this gift with Whitman scholars and aficionados. Kathleen J. Reich ENDNOTES: 1 Rollins College Archives. The Edwin Osgood Grover Papers, Correspondence with William Sloane Kennedy. 2 ibid. 3 Rollins College Archives. Library Papers (60B-5k) Letter from Wm. K. Yust to Judge Remington, Nov. 20, 1935. 4 Rollins College Archives Library Papers (60B-5k) William Sloane Kennedy Trust Fund. Letter from Joseph D. Ibbotson to President Holt, May 29, 1943. 5 ibid. Letter from Holt to Ibbotson, 31 May, 1943. 6 Ibid. Letter from Harry H. Brown to Hamilton Holt, December 29, 1944 and Letter from Holt to Brown, January 12, 1945.

Note written by Kathleen J. Reich


9.50 Linear Feet

15 boxes other_unmapped

9.50 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

Arranged in 8 series: Biographical Materials; Personal Correspondence of William Sloane Kennedy; Correspondence of Others; Business Records; Writings; Notes and Notebooks; Subject Files; and Photographs and Pictorial Materials.

Source of Acquisition

William Sloane Kennedy

Method of Acquisition

Donation of personal paper collection

Existence and Location of Originals

multi-part note content

Related Materials

See also information related to William Sloane Kennedy in the Walt Whitman Archive.

Other Descriptive Information

PREFACE by Ed Folsom, University of Iowa In biographies of Walt Whitman, William Sloane Kennedy usually gets little more than a brief mention as one of Whitman's most fervid supporters late in the poet's life. He deserves far more attention, however, and the appearance of this catalogue of the William Sloane Kennedy Memorial Collection of Whitmaniana at Rollins College will facilitate the kind of careful study that his life and work clearly merit. Most students of Whitman know that Kennedy was the author of Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (1896) and A Fight of a Book for the World (1926) - two of the most intelligent and illuminating early studies of Whitman - and the editor of Walt Whitman's Diary in Canada (1904), which made available Whitman's notes about his one trip outside the United States. Like most of Whitman's friends and disciples, however, Kennedy surprises us with the range and depth of his accomplishments. Few Whitman students are aware of the variety of his publications, from an anthology of Ruskin's work to a concordance of Emerson's writings to biographies of Burroughs, Holmes, Longfellow, and Whittier - not to mention his international study of railroads (Wonders and Curiosities of the Railway [1884]), his own poetry (Poems of the Weird and the Mystical [1926]), and his critique of Mussolini (Italy in Chains [1927]). An accomplished journalist, Kennedy wrote for many newspapers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. He also published countless articles in a variety of journals on authors as varied as Dante, Spenser, Shakespeare, and Tennyson, and on topics as diverse as stoicism, birds, and cannibalism. He was proficient in languages (he translated German articles for Whitman and did book-length translations of Italian writers) and traveled extensively in Europe. He was an inveterate keeper of journals and a prolific letter writer, whose correspondents included key Whitman figures like Clara Barrus, Leon Bazalgette, Richard Maurice Bucke, John Burroughs, Edward Carpenter, Clifton Furness, Elizabeth Porter Gould, Thomas Harned, Oscar Lion, Bliss Perry, and Henry S. Saunders. This lifetime of impressive activity is archived in this remarkable collection, which forms Kennedy's unique legacy: he not only left his own papers and his own collection of Whitman books, photographs, and manuscripts, but also established an endowment that has allowed Rollins College to continue to add Whitman materials on an ongoing basis. The result is one of the most complete collections of Whitman scholarship to be found anywhere. The collection includes fine copies of all editions of Leaves of Grass (including the first) and copies of most critical, biographical, and bibliographical studies of Whitman, including photocopies of many unpublished dissertations. Kennedy's own heavily annotated copy of Specimen Days and Collect is here, as are his annotated copies of books by Bucke, Carpenter, Thomas Donaldson, and Horace Traubel. The collection thus provides a workshop of Kennedy's responses to Whitman and to early commentators on the poet, and researchers can now follow the development of Kennedy's ideas by studying the notes, drafts, original manuscripts, and corrected proofs of hIS articles and books about Whitman. Kennedy's original manuscript for A Fight of a Book for the World is here, for example, along with galley proofs and final proofs; when combined with earlier drafts in Duke University's Trent Collection (containing Whitman's annotations), these materials record the evolution of the most probing early analysis of Whitman's poetry. Whitman's correspondence underscores the importance of his friendship with Kennedy. During the final ten years of his life, Whitman sent Kennedy well over a hundred letters and postcards (one of the original postcards is in the Kennedy collection). Hardly a week went by when they .were not in touch with one another. Whitman's letters to him report detaIls of his illnesses, describe his meals, record the weather, layout his latest publication plans, and encourage Kennedy in his various writing projects. For his part, Kennedy sent Whitman elderberry wine, roses, and "calamus sugar-plums" (made by Mrs. Kennedy), and his letters contain impassioned and worshipful praIse of the poet, whom he calls "a grand old god, with all your faults," "the only god I at present worship apart from the Universe as a whole." "To me who have drank [sic] at all fountains of literature the world over, & climbed the lonely peaks of thought in every land & age," Kennedy wrote to Whitman in 1888, "your Leaves of Grass still towers up above everything else in grand aspiration, right philosophy; & the heart-beats of true liberty." In an 1890 Christmas letter, Kennedy half-seriously suggested that the celebration of Christ's birth should be replaced WIth the celebration of Whitman's: "Do you suppose in a thousand years fro now people will be celebrating the birth of Walt Whitman as they are now the birth of Christ? If they don't - the more fools they. But - I hope they won't mythologize you & Idiotize themselves as they do over that poor Christ." Kennedy regularly kept Whitman informed about the fate of his own book about Leaves of Grass - a book that he eventually published as two different studies. He let Whitman know how difficult it was "to get y'r parallax & calculate your dimensions." He worried that Bucke's 1883 book on Whitman "lacks profundity & literary knack in its treatment of the work (analysis) & estimate of the problems involved," and he sought to write the definitive study. Whitman read drafts of Kennedy's work and commented on it, encouraging him to go over the proofs carefully, "for with Dr Bucke's book they are to be in all probability the vignette & authority of many things in my & my works' future-the backward & contemporary reference." Although Whitman worried about what he called Kennedy's "sledge-hammer" style, he greatly admired his "freedom, swing, bubbling-upness which is rare, which we must value." By the end of Whitman's life, Kennedy had become one of the friends he most admired and trusted: "For Kennedy I have gradually realized an affection, a real, deep, enduring affection ... " The full story of the Whitman/Kennedy decade-long friendship has yet to be wntten. The Kennedy Memorial Collection makes such a study possible and provides the raw materials out of which can be constructed a contextualized understanding of Kennedy's fascination with Whitman. Such a study will provide us with new insights into why Whitman appealed so strongly to so many talented people like Kennedy - well-rounded and wide-ranging professionals who came to devote themselves to this radical poet of a sensual democracy.

Archon Finding Aid Title
Kathleen J. Reich
Description rules
Other Unmapped
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Repository Details

Part of the Rollins College Archives & Special Collections Repository

Rollins College Box 2744
1000 Holt Avenue
Winter Park 32789-4499 US