Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Robert Pearsall Smith, 12 September [1887]

Date: September 12, 1887

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977).

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03838

Contributors to digital file: Ryan Furlong, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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328 Mickle Street
Camden New Jersey U S America1
Sept 12 '87

Dear friend

Yours (including J A Symonds's2 printed note) has just reach'd & been heartily welcomed by me—Thanks—I have had boxed & sent over to you, a large plaster head by, Sidney Morse3, the sculptor4—If convenient you are to donate this head to the Royal Academy, (or if you & Ernest Rhys5 feel it best, I leave it to you, where & to what public London gallery to put it)—The medallions and Emersons6 are your own—except that I should like one of the medallions to go to Mary7 & her husband8 with my love.

Nothing very new here—the weather is fine & has been so for many weeks—I am well, for me—drive out quite a deal— the oysters come & have come, & are invariably good & I thrive on them— Dr Bucke9 is here, continues thro' the week —Gilchrist 10 is here, leaves on the steamer 21st—

Love to you & dear Alys11—Logan has been to see me lately, he looks splendidly12


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Pearsall Smith | 40 Grosvenor Road | the Embankment | London s w | England. It is postmarked: Camden, N. J. | SEP 12 | 430 PM | 87; London S W | (?) | SP 23 | 87; (?) | (?) | SP 23 37| AB; New York | SEP 12 (?). Whitman's address is printed as follows in the lower left corner of the envelope: Walt Whitman, | Camden, | New Jersey, | U.S. America. [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 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. Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 57–84; and David Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography (New York: Vintage Books, 1996), 546–590. [back]

4. On August 27 Whitman gave Sydney Morse $70 "to pay to caster for the 10 heads." Morse brought four of the heads on September 2, one of which was sent to Richard Maurice Bucke (Whitman's Commonplace Book; Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). According to the tabulation in Whitman's Commonplace Book, the poet paid Morse $133 in the next few months, presumably for expenses incurred in casting. [back]

5. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Morse created small Whitman medallions and made a small bust of Ralph Waldo Emerson; he gave copies to Whitman. [back]

7. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945), daughter of Hannah Whitall and Robert Pearsall Smith, was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about Costelloe, see Christina Davey, Costelloe, (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Benjamin Francis Conn Costelloe (1854–1899), Mary's first husband, was an English barrister and Liberal Party politician. [back]

9. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. Alys Smith was a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith and eventually married the philosopher Bertrand Russell. [back]

12. See Whitman's follow-up letter, sent out a few hours later that day (September 12, [1887]). [back]


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