Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Robert Pearsall Smith, 12 June 1890

Date: June 12, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01397

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: Ian Faith, Ryan Furlong, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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June 12 1890

Hope this will find you well & comfortable. Alys1 must be with you by this time & perhaps Logan2 too—I send best love to both—Logan's letter rec'd3 & gladly—With me slowly jogging along (down hill)—easier the last few days of my third attack of grip, & get out either by horse & hansom or wheel chair4 almost every day—love to get down by the Delaware & sit watching half an hour or more—was there last evening at sunset—Suppose you rec'd the papers, accting my birth day supper (I am now in my 72d y'r you know)—Dr Bucke5 is home in Canada at his Asylum busy as a bee—is well—I have heard of my lines & note ab't the Queen's birthday6 in the English papers7—my last poem was rejected by the Century—& I now feel pretty well out in the cold, having been bluff'd by all the magazines here, & the Eng: Nineteenth Century—but I am well used to it all—have massage every day, & get along fairly—some very hot weather here—the country seems prosperous—good crops, great census—What I am afraid mostly ab't America is that we are too prosperous & too infernally smart

Walt Whitman

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).


1. Alyssa ("Alys") Whitall Pearsall Smith (1867–1951) was born in Philadelphia and became a Quaker relief organizer. She attended Bryn Mawr College and was a graduate of the class of 1890. She and her family lived in Britain for two years during her childhood and again beginning in 1888. She married the philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1894; the couple later separated, and they divorced in 1921. Smith also served as the chair of a society committee that set up the "Mothers and Babies Welcome" (the St Pancras School for Mothers) in London in 1907; this health center, dedicated to reducing the infant mortality rate, provided a range of medical and educational services for women. Smith was the daughter of Robert Pearsall and Hannah Whitall Smith, and she was the sister of Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945), the political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." [back]

2. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was an essayist and literary critic. He was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith. For more information on Logan, see Christina Davey "Smith, Logan Pearsall (1865–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. This letter may not survive. [back]

4. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

5. 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]

6. Whitman is referring to his poem "For Queen Victoria's Birthday," which was published in the May 24, 1890, issue of the Philadelphia Public Ledger[back]

7. In his May 24,1890, letter to Whitman, Ernest Rhys recounts his "notable night–excursion" to ensure the slips would be published. The Pall Mall Gazette was the only paper to conspicuously publish Whitman's verses along with his note on Queen Victoria, though three other British periodicals did print the poem. [back]


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