Literary Comments in the Letters of Henry S. Salt to W.S. Kennedy

Literary Comments in the Letters of Henry S. Salt to W.S. Kennedy

Henry S. Salt, the English critic whose 1890 biography of Thoreau is still of value, remembered that he had first met the American critic, William Sloane Kennedy, at Millthorpe, Edward Carpenter’s home.  “Our friendship,” Salt wrote in Company I Have Kept, “was maintained without break till his death last year, not many weeks after that of Carpenter himself. ‘Edward’s farewell handshake,’ thus Kennedy wrote to me of July 30 1929, ‘so lingering and kindly, touched me. I thought it was the last, and that he felt it.’ Five days after the date of the letter from which I quote, Kennedy was drowned while bathing in the sea at West Yarmouth, Massachusetts. I miss him greatly; indeed these losses of friends are the worst afflictions of old age.”1

The first letter by Salt reproduced here was written in 1889, but the correspondence between 1889 and 1920 is missing, as are Kennedy’s replies. The missing items would be of great value, for the years 1889-1920 were a time of tremendous literary activity for both Salt and Kennedy. Stephen Winsten, Salt’s biographer, lists the publication of 28 books by him during that period (some, however, were reprints of pamphlets), and Kennedy wrote two books on Whitman and numerous essays. (The Fight of A Book for the World was not published until 1926). Salt in his letters comments on his own works, on contemporary English writers, and on two of his favorite American writers–Thoreau and Melville.

I.

38 Gloucester Road
Regents Park London
Aug. 30 1 1889

My friend Edward Carpenter, whom I believe you know, tells me that he thinks you might possibly be able to give me some help towards a biography of Thoreau–I am working at a volume in which I wish to combine a clear and comprehensive account of Thoreau’s life with a fuller and more serious estimate of his doctrines than those given in the existing memoirs–Mr. Harrison Blake has kindly promised to give me what assistance he can, and so have some other friends and student of Thoreau.

If you should chance to know of any out-lying sources of information, or unpublished letters, I should be very much obliged to you if you would tell me of them. Apologising for thus troubling you, I remain....2

II.

19 Highdown Road, Brighton
Oct. 2, 1920

You spoke of Hudson’s books.3 He is often at Worthing, about ten miles from here, (as perhaps I mentioned when I wrote), and a short time ago he called here one afternoon to see me. Unfortunately he had not let me know he was coming, and I had gone on the Downs. That was the least fortunate of expeditions. I am hardly likely to see him now, for he spends the winter in Cornwall, as his health is not good.

I have been rather busy lately with the proofs of my book, a volume of reminiscences or what-not (hardly an “autobiography,” as I am only the peg on which to hang the reminiscences of men and movements). It is to be published by George Allen & Unwin, either late in the present year or early in 1921. It has the pleasant title, as perhaps I told you, of  “Seventy Years among Savages,” and is “just a friendly account of friendly savages, by one of them.” Its moral, of course, is humanitarian–that the present age cannot be called a civilised one–and this is illustrated by anecdotes of Eton, Cambridge, literary life, &c. The publisher hope that the anecdotal part will “float” the ethical (!), but I doubt it....

I have heard little of Carpenter lately. He came, unexpectedly, to see me off, when I was starting from a London Station for [?], as happened to be then in London, & had heard from a friend the hour of my departure. That is all I have seen of him since last winter. I hear a report that he is going to the South of France, next winter, with his brother the Captain.

III.

19 Highdown Road, Brighton–
February 15, 1921

I will not delay to send a line to thank you, and Mrs. Kennedy, for your kind letters about those Savages. I value your opinion especially what you say about the chapter on Death and Love. Will you tell Mrs. Kennedy that Eton boys are (as she was informed) very well-bred, and if they pour slops on the heads of passers-by in the street, they do it in handsomest manner. The book has had an extraordinary “good press” in this country, commencing with the Times (enclosed) on the day of publication and all the other papers, or some fifty of them, including Punch, following on similar lines. I am the “Faddist”, of course; but they take kindly to the role of savages, A few reviews have been reasoned and serious; most of them evade the moral, and go for the anecdotes.

So you saw and heard “G. K. C.”!4 He is a very clever fellow, so whimsical in his wit; not a clear thinker, or a trustworthy guide, but unsurpassed in certain in certain forms of humour. I am sorry he was out of England just at the time my book appeared as I think it might have drawn something good from him.

You mention Herman Melville. It is strange that no biography of him has appeared. Twice have I had letters from countrymen of yours (the first was Arthur Stedman, son of the well-known writer, I forget who the second was),5 announcing that they were engaged on such a work; but neither one nor the other stuck to it. I sent over all the material I had, for the use of one of them, and never got it back. Mrs. Melville was then living in New York, I believe, with a daughter; but now I have not heard of them for many years and don’t know if they are still alive.

 No, I think the “Whale” is his chief work, in spite of its many faults, transcendentalism, &c. I introduced it to William Morris’s notice, and he truly enjoyed it. So did Robert Buchanan, & others; but somehow Melville does not “catch on”, even in “Types” which is of course the most artistic of his books. I wrote an Introduction years ago for John Murrey’s Ed. of “Types” and “Omoo”.6 ... I hope you will get out your Whitman handbook....

IV.

19 Highdown Road, Brighton
April 20, 1922

I got a copy of Melville’s Life and was interested to read it, as I have such a great admiration for M., but I cannot say I think the book is well done. I have seen hardly any reviews of it in England. I wrote a short article on M. For the Literary Guide, a rationalist monthly journal, but it has not yet been published; may appear in May or June number, as it is in type.

I have been busy of late, as I have three books in the press. One is a new edition of “Animals’ Rights”,7 printed as a sort of substitute for that testimonial which I declined to accept, and timed to [coincide] with the centenary celebration of “Martin’s Act”, the first legislation for the prevention of cruelty to animals. The second is a new book about wild flowers,8 a copy of which I shall send for your acceptance when it appears, probably in late May or June; and the third is a revised edition of a little book about Cambrian and Cumbrian Hills, first published in 1908.9 ...

We have had a very quiet winter here. Had a visit from Edward Carpenter, who has now left Millthorpe and gone to live at Guildford, on the North Downs in Surrey. He and Merrill found the winters in Derbyshire too trying; so he has let his world-famed cottage and bought a mansion at Guildford.

Well, how is John Burroughs? I hope you have found a publisher.

I had a letter yesterday from an unknown correspondent in Cloverdale, Cal., named Starcliff telling me that my “Seventy Years among Savages” “made a better impression on his mind than any book he has read”, except Thoreau’s Walden and the New Testament”!!

I am in good company anyhow! Why do your countrymen write such tall letters? ...

V.

19 Highdown Rd. Brighton
April 23, ‘23.

Yours of April 1st to hand. I was glad to see what you say of “Moby Dick”; it is a marvellous book. There seems to be a revival of interest here in Melville, at least among the better informed. I could wish that Weaver had woven his materials more skilfully in the Life; the book seems to me at fault, in its attempts at Epigram and cleverness on the biographer’s part, while there is no real or vivid presentation of Melville himself.

Like you, I have to skip freely in reading “Moby Dick”. Melville suffered sever severely from the epidemic of Transcendentalism. But when one knows where to read, and where to skip, all is well....

In a few weeks, I hope to send you a copy of a little book which I wrote last winter, “The Story of my Cousins”, biographies of a few animal friends....10

VI.

19 Highdown Rd, Brighton
November 15, 1923

Now I am trying to settle down again to winter work–not an easy thing to do after so much out-of-doors during the past six months but I must have some congenial occupation to carry me through the dark months. The AEneid11 of Virgil is ever with me, calling for revision of the translation which I made some years ago. Also I have an idea of writing some more reminiscences of a light sort, a Study of “Queer Fish”, perhaps; for I have known some queer ones! ....

VII.

19 Highdown Rd, Brighton
April 15, 1924

The “Burroughs” has arrived and I send a few lines (as postscript to my letter of Apr. 8th) to thank you for so welcome a gift, and for your kind references to myself. The book is excellently done–genuine, sincere, and shrewd in its judgments right through; pure Kennedy, in fact! A great contrast to 9 out of 10 of the biographies of the day, such as Weaver’s “Melville”, where one suspects that the author is posing for the public eye. You are greatly to be congratulated; and I trust the literary press will recognize a good thing when they see it. We shall have much to talk about, when I see you here in the summer.

I think your view of Burroughs is the true one. Personally I never liked his treatment of Thoreau, whom he did not really understand and consequently belittled. But Thoreau was too great for his times, and his reputation will gradually work itself clear of all those misapprehensions.

I should say that Burroughs had the genius of the artist, the craftsman in words, but not of the seer; he had the vision, but not the impassioned vision, which is the highest. He reminds me of William Morris in that respect, and also, strange to say, in his portraits.

I shall have to ask you about John Muir when we meet, I had his “Mountains of California” given me about 10 years ago, and think it a really great work; too rugged, no doubt, and lacking in symmetry, but containing passages, and whole chapters, that only a man of genius could have written. Then his portrait in your book (p. 57)–how truly beautiful! I don’t know whether he is living still, but it makes me almost wish to go on pilgrimage to him. I had a letter from him once. ...

VIII.

19 Highdown Rd. Brighton
Feb. 19, ‘27

I owe you thanks for your letters and cuttings; also not least, for the copy of “An Autolycus Pack”,  which I am reading with interest in the evenings. It is very good, I think; and you have that rather rare quality, the gift of the Essayist; the light touch, together with the plentiful knowledge behind it. How busy your pen has been of late! You are to be congratulated.

I was sorry to hear what you said about Bazalgette. I never met him personally, but from his writings had got a pleasant impression of him. It has so happened that he touched on some of the subjects with which I too have been concerned.

The cutting from “Unity” has just arrived; and I am going to the Library to try to get the address of that paper. I have never seen it; but it seems to be of the sort that I ought to know. A cutting was sent to me a few months ago containing part of Gandhi’s autobiography, from which it appeared that a book of mine had had the honour of helping him to adopt the humane diet years ago. The Saint! And I, but a sinner!12 ...

I have heard nothing about a book on Whitman’s friends by E. C. I hope it is not so. The homosexual figures too largely in C.’s writings.13 ...

IX.

19 Highdown Rd, Brighton
Feb. 10, 1927

I hear from E. C. now and then, but have not seen him for a couple of years or so. I may manage to get to Guildford next summer, to pay him a day’s visit. He has just edited a new book, as you will see from enclosed notice.14

X.

19 Highdown Road, Brighton
March 30, 1927

... On Friday last I married Catherine Mandeville, my housekeeper, and have thus feathered my nest for old age, by securing a most affectionate and devoted companionship.

Seventy-five married to thirty-five sounds strange; but when you see you’ll understand how wise I've been and congratulate me. The loneliness of the last decade has been intolerable.

XI.

15, Sandgate Road, Brighton
March 10, ‘28

... I don't know whether you have heard of the trouble that has befallen Edward Carpenter, in the death of his friend George Merrill. (Possibly I told you in a previous letter, but I think not).

From what I hear, I am afraid the blow has broken him down sadly; it was so unexpected and sudden. Friends who have seen him tell me that he seems quite unable to bear it, and that all his philosophical fortitude had failed him. This, I think, must be due to the fact that, not to mention his age, he was already in a very weak state of health.

So you will have been reading Herman Melville’s great book! It always impressed me strongly. Some thirty years ago I had a great desire to write a study of him; but circumstances were against me, and I never got beyond an article which John Murray used as a preface to his edition of “Typee” and “Omoo”.

I have been very busy of late revising my verse translation of Virgil’s AEneid. It is to be published by Cambridge University Press; this spring, I suppose, but the proofs have not yet begun to reach me. This will be the fulfilment of a very old ambition of mine; for the beauty of Virgil’s poem has been a joy to me ever since I was a boy at Eton, and I have for years been trying my hand at reproducing it in English in such small measure as may be possible....

XII.

Sandgate Road, Brighton
July 17, 1928

... I am a great-stay-at-home now; and my only journey has been to Guildford, to see our friend Edward Carpenter, who is much aged and broken since George Merrill’s death a few month ago. Fortunately he has a good friend and attendant with him, Ted Trigher, who had lived with him & G.M. for some years; but his weakness is very pitiable, and he looks the mere ghost of what you and I remember him at Millthorpe. It is only the wicked who prosper. I believe old Massingham goes on as you saw him; and his advertised hot and cold running water never dries up, as we do!

I had a South African, a stranger, calling her on Sunday last; he had been touring your States, and talked, inter alia, of Thoreau. I seldom hear mention of Thoreau now; all good and great things having temporarily lapsed from the public mind since the war; but that he will come into his kingdom again who can doubt? Is there the same forgetfulness on your side of the ocean? ...

XIII.

15 Sandgate Road, Brighton
Dec. 25, 1928.

I need not tell you that I am much gratified to learn, from your letter of Dec. 12th, that you think so well of my Virgil translation. Virgil has meant a great deal to me; and now that the book is actually  published, which I scarcely dared to hope ever to see, it is of course a great pleasure to me to find that it satisfaction to other lovers of the poet, like yourself, who appreciate him too well to be put off with any inferior stuff.

There have not, as yet, been a great number of press-notices–, not more than half-a-dozen of any real importance, but so far they have been on the whole very favourable, especially about the choice of metre, which they grossly acclaim as “the true formula”. In several cases, too, they express the opinion that this is the best of the published versions.

I could hardly expect more than this, without being as unreasonable as some poets are! And I don't consider myself a poet; so that I by no means resent such (just) criticisms as that my verse is “always poetical, never poetry”. I hope that some real poet, instead of adopting a wrong medium, as Dryden did, will some day use the right one, and produce a translation that is itself a poem. For I look on the Englishing of Virgil as, so to speak, a social task, not a merely individual one; in the sense that any one who attempts it should be glad if his successors can make use of his efforts and build something better thereon. That is how I feel, any how, about my own version. ...

None of the critics have quoted from Book VI, in which I think I have succeeded best, and which (in my opinion) Virgil surpasses even himself. Well, I keep your letter among my treasures.

Catherine and I are getting through the winter somehow; and when this swinish festival of Christmas is over, I shall feel more hope for the new year.

 regret to say that Ed. Carpenter is very broken, physically and mentally. They say his heart is strong and he may live for some time; but it is the sort of life which is hardly preferable to death, Luckily he has a most devoted friend to look after him, Ted Trigher. Is it not strange that the death of George Merrill should have had so fatal an effect on E. C.?15

XIV.

151 Sandgate Road, Brighton
April 9, 1929.

... I am pretty busy in one way or another–my latest work is a new edition of my “Life of Thoreau”. The Walter Scott firm is dead; and I should be free to reissue the book, if any publisher would care to venture. I have written to Houghton Mifflin,16 first, to ask if the idea appeals at all to them; but probably they would think it beneath their dignity to take up an old English book. If they decline, I shall sound other firms, either in this country or in yours....

Thoreau student, an enthusiast, Raymond Adams, Ph.D., writes to me from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Do you know of him? He is quite up to date in the subject; as I am not.

XV.

21 Cleveland Road,
Brighton, Sussex, Eng,
September 3, 1929,

Dear Mrs. Crowell:

I have today received your letter, and I am greatly grieved to hear of the death of my old friend, W. Sloane Kennedy; more grieved than surprised, perhaps; for though the manner of his death was so strange, I had often thought of late that in his energy he did not sufficiently remember his age. I presume it was some sort of heart-failure that caused him to drown.

I had heard nothing of it until your letter arrived; and I am grateful to you for writing.

Following close on the death of Edward Carpenter whom we had both known for many years, it is the more sad; in fact this frequent loss of old friends is the great trouble of age. I have lost several in this year alone.

I think it must have been at Carpenter’s house that I first met W.S.K.; and since that meeting, he had always come to see me when he was in England, I enjoyed his lively spirits; a quick temper, but one that was always kindly in the long run. As to his mention of “a divine friend”, I cannot think that he applied that term to me!! though it is pleasant to hear that he spoke of me to you. Was it not of Edward Carpenter, “the Sage of Millthorpe”, that he used that expression? Anyhow I shall always cherish the memory of him, as one of my best friends.

My wife, who had a great regard for Mr. Kennedy, joins me in thanking you for your letter.

–University of Colorado

1 Henry S. Salt, Company I Have Kept, London, 1930, p. 116. I am grateful to the Librarian of Rollins College for permission to edit the material included in this study.
2 For a similar statement by Salt, see Anna and Walton Ricketson, eds., Daniel Ricketson and his Friends, Boston, 1902, pp. 249-250. Salt also wrote about Kennedy, “It was through our common love of Thoreau that I first became acquainted with Mr. W. Sloane Kennedy, of Belmont, Massachusetts, a true nature-lover with whom I have had much pleasant and friendly intercourse both personally and by letter.” Salt, Seventy Yeas Among Savages, London, 1921, p. 115. I have in every case omitted formal opening and closing remarks. Kennedy did respond to Salt’s request, and Salt in the “Prefatory Note” to The Life of Henry David Thoreau, London, 1890, acknowledged his debt to Kennedy. Kennedy’s 1880 Penn Monthly article on Thoreau was listed in the bibliography. In the 1896 edition of the biography, mention of Salt was deleted.
3 For extended comments on W. H. Hudson, see Company I Have Kept, pp. 117-129, and Seventy Years Among Savages, pp. 116-118.
4 Gilbert Keith Chesterton.
5 John Freeman, who wrote in the “Preface” to Herman Melville, N.Y., 1926, that Salt had “freely placed at his disposal the material in his hands.” (See page v.) In Company I Have Kept, Salt remembered sending his materials to Freeman, pp. 108-109.
7 First published in 1892. Revised 1922.
8 The Call of the Wildflower, London, 1922.
9 First published by A. C. Fifield.
10 London, 1923.
11 Published in 1926.
12 See also Company I Have Kept, pp. 100-101.
13 Some Friends of Walt Whitman: A Study in Sex Psychology, London, 1924.
14 Clipping missing.
15 See Edward Carpenter, My Days and Dreams, N.Y., 1916, 159ff., for comments on Merrill.
16 Houghton Mifflin is unable to locate the Salt letter in its files.

George Hendrick

Emerson Society Quarterly, No. 19, II Quarter 1960

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