Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, 10 February 1890

Date: February 10, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01396

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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Camden New Jersey U S America
Feb: 10 '901

It is near sunset after a bright winter day & I am waiting for my supper—my young nurse2 is down stairs practising his fiddle lesson—

—I have just written three letters & here's a line to thee—Love to the dear little ones too & Mr C3—Don't invest thyself too heavily in those reforms or women movements or any other movements over there4—attend to thyself & take it easy—all going on with me as of acct's before—have a bit in last Century5

Walt Whitman

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: Mary Costelloe | 40 Grosvenor Road | the Embankment | London England. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Feb 10 | 8 PM | 90; Philadelphia, Pa. | Feb 10 | 11 PM | Paid. [back]

2. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]

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

4. In her letter of February 3, 1890, Costelloe had said: "I cannot now imagine what life would be like with no interest in politics!"; she spoke of the spread of socialism and of a meeting of the Westminster Women's Liberal Association at which she was to preside (Smith Alumnae Quarterly [February, 1958], 88). On February 15, Whitman forwarded her letter to Bucke, who commented two days later (on February 17, 1889): "I guess Mr & Mrs Costelloe (and friends) are going to reform that old world over there! They will have a whack at it any way and perhaps the trying to reform it is as good as the actual reforming would be!" [back]

5. "Old Age's Ship & Crafty Death's" appeared in the February 1890 issue of the Century[back]


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