Saturday, August 18, 2012

Deathday: John Pendleton Kennedy 1870 Novelist, Lawyer, Poe Friend

John Pendleton Kennedy (October 25, 1795 – August 18, 1870) was an American novelist and Whig politician who served as United States Secretary of the Navy from July 26, 1852 to March 4, 1853, during the administration of President Millard Fillmore, and as a U.S. Representative from the Maryland's 4th congressional district. He was the brother of U.S. Senator Anthony Kennedy.

Literary life

Kennedy's first literary attempt was a fortnightly periodical called the Red Book, publishing anonymously with his roommate Peter Hoffman Cruse from 1819–1820. Kennedy published Swallow Barn, or A Sojourn in the Old Dominion in 1832, which would become his best-known work. Horse-Shoe Robinson was published in 1835 to win a permanent place of respect in the history of American fiction.

A friend and literary patron of Poe, he recognized Poe's genius as well as his psychological disparities. In 1833, he served on the commitee that judged Poe's prize story for the BALTIMORE SATURDAY VISITER, "MS Found in a Bottle." In December 1834, Kennedy recommended Poe's short story collection to the publishing firm of Carey and Lea and, from his own pocket, supplied Poe with a small advance and invited him to dinner. Poe's response, dated Sunday March 15, 1835, nad often quoted, exhibits the depth to which Poe's fortunes had fallen. Humilated by his impoverished state and appearance, Poe refused Kennedy's invitation with the following note:

Dr. Sir -- Your kind invitation to dinner today has wounded me to the quick. I cannot come -- for reasons of the most humiliating nature in my personal appearance. You may conceive my deep mortification in making this disclosure to you -- but it was necessary. If you will be my friend so far as to loan me $20, I will call on you tomorrow -- otherwise it will be impossible, and I must submit to my fate.

Sincerely yours,

E.A. Poe
Sunday 15th

Touched by Poe's plight, Kennedy also took the forlorn writer under his wing, supplying him with money and clothes, an inviting him to dinner while making certain that Maria Clemm and Virginia Clemm were given generous amounts of food. He also introduced Poe to Thomas Willis White, editor of the SOUTHERN LITERARY MESSENGER, and recommended that White not only publish Poe's fiction but help him in "drudging upon whatever may make money." In a May 1835 review of Kennedy's novel HORSE-SHOE ROBINSON: A TALE OF THE TORY ASCENDENCY that appeared in the MESSENGER, Poe placed the author "at once in the very first rank of American Novelists." In "Autography," Poe noted Kennedy "(to have) the eye of a painter, more especially in regard to the picturesque -- to have refined tastes generally -- to be exquisitely alive to the proprieties of life -- to possess energy, decision, and great talent -- to have a penchant also for the bizarre."

-- Edgar Allan Poe A to Z, Dawn P. Sova

While abroad Kennedy became a friend of William Makepeace Thackeray and wrote or outlined the fourth chapter of the second volume of The Virginians, a fact which accounts for the great accuracy of its scenic descriptions. Of his works Horse-Shoe Robinson is the best and ranks high in antebellum fiction. Washington Irving read an advance copy of it and reported he was "so tickled with some parts of it" that he read it aloud to his friends. Kennedy sometimes wrote under the pen name Mark Littleton, especially in his political satires.

Retirement and death

Kennedy retired from public life in March 1853 when President Fillmore left office, but he retained an active interest in politics and his name was mentioned as one of the vice-presidential prospects on the Republican ticket in 1860 (meaning that Abraham Lincoln might have been paired with a man named "John Kennedy"). At the end of the American Civil War — during which he forcefully supported the Union — he advocated amnesty for the South. He died at Newport, Rhode Island on August 18, 1870, and is buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland. The USS John P. Kennedy and USS Kennedy (DD-306) were named for him.

In his will, Kennedy wrote the following:

It is my wish that the manuscript volumes containing my journals, my note or common-place books, and the several volumes of my own letters in press copy, as also all my other letters, such as may possess any interest or value (which I desire to be bound in volumes) that are now in lose sheets, shall be returned to my executors, who are requested to have the same packed away in a strong walnut box, closed and locked, and then delivered to the Peabody Institute, to be preserved by them unopened until the year 1900, when the same shall become the property of the Institute, to be kept among its books and records.

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