Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: George Herbert Palmer to Walt Whitman, 20 February 1885

Date: February 20, 1885

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03484

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.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Kyle Barton, and Nicole Gray

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Feb. 20, 1885.

Dear Mr Whitman—

I want to thank you for the beautiful photograph of yourself sent me through Miss Smith.1 It is too true a likeness of you as you are now to represent the author of the Leaves of Grass. The picture which hung on yr wall showed that person better—his paganism, his full senses, his readiness to identify himself with all things, his insubordination, & his recklessness of the fine relations which change a world of things into a world of persons. If I could prefer a poet to a man, I should like that picture better. But this will be the best reminder of the beautiful [ripened?] spirit who met me in Camden & said, "I did the work sincerely. So it is honorable. God shall use it to help men, or else let him throw it away."

With warm regard, I am
Sincerely yours,
G.H. Palmer

George Herbert Palmer (1842–1933) was a Bostonian scholar and writer who would become the professor of natural religion and moral philosophy at Harvard in 1889. Mary Whitall Smith took classes with him (as his only female student) and considered Palmer "a very fine teacher" (Tiffany L. Johnston, "Mary Whitall Smith at the Harvard Annex," Berenson & Harvard: Bernard and Mary as Students exhibition, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies).


1. 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). [back]


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