Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, 11 February 1887

Date: February 11, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01362

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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 created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Kevin McMullen, and Stephanie Blalock

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Feb. 11 '87

Nothing very new or special with me—As I write toward latter part of afternoon the weather is warm & dark & wet here. I go out hardly at all the roads are so bad—(the winter will soon be beginning to break)—I havn't heard from you now in some time2—Dr B3 writes often4—I am to be taken over to the Contemporary Club" Phila. in a few evenings to talk to them5

Best love—

Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. This postal card is addressed: Mrs: Costelloe | 40 Grosvenor Road | the Embankment | London England. It is postmarked: Camden | Feb | 11 | 8 PM | 1887 | N.J. [back]

2. On January 17, 1887, Mary Costelloe had written: "Thee can't think what a refreshment to soul and body it is to read 'Leaves of Grass' or even to think of thee, in the midst of this artificial town life." [back]

3. 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]

4. The only extant item in the correspondence between Walt Whitman and Richard Maurice Bucke at this time is the latter's letter of February 20, 1887[back]

5. On February 23, 1887 the Philadelphia Press reported that on the preceding evening "the venerable poet spoke at length concerning his poetry, and in the course of his address repeated extracts, among which were 'The Mysterious Trumpeter' and 'Two Birds' in 'Pauman Oak'" ["The Mystic Trumpeter" and the section beginning "Once Paumanok . . ." from "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"]. The meeting was attended by Traubel and Dr. Daniel G. Brinton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who on February 28 formally conveyed to Walt Whitman the gratitude of the club. According to Whitman's Commonplace Book (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), he received $20 for the reading. See Traubel's account in In Re Walt Whitman (1893), ed. by Horace L. Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned, 130-131. [back]


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