Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Alys Smith to Walt Whitman, [10] June 1888

Date: June [10], 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03813

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "June 21st. They have reached London safely. Mr. Smith much better for the voyage.," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Alex Ashland, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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40 Grosvenor Road,
Westminster Embankment,
S.W.1

Dear Mr. Whitman—

I am writing to you from Mary's2 to tell you about her and her dear little baby, four weeks old. It is another little girl to be called Katherine Elizabeth,3 but Karin (pronounced like the "a" in 'car') for short. She is a dear good little baby with large blue eyes, and Ray4 is so pleased with her little sister. She calls her "isser" & likes to kiss & stroke her. Mary is not as well as she ought to be, a toublesome wisdom tooth having followed the appearance of the baby, and that is why she hasnot written to you, though she has thought of you very often. The rest of us are all well & very pleased to be back in England again. Father5 & Mother & I spent the winter in France & Italy & we enjoyed the trip very much indeed, but still nothing compares to London & to the dear old Thames running by us here.

Mr. Rhys6 & his sister7 are near neighbours of ours in Westminster & I have seen the sister once since I came home. I think she is very pretty & charming, as you said.

Have you seen that novel "The Story of an African Farm"? We saw a good deal of the author, Olive Schreiner,8 when we were in the Riviera, & she is such an interesting girl. She has wonderful dark eyes & a lovely expressive face, & her conversation is most delightful. I wish that she were going to America instead of back to Africa, so that you could see her.— Mary sends you a great deal of love & so do I, dear Mr. Whitman. We hope you are pretty well. Will you give my love to Mrs. Davis?9

Yours affectionately
Alys Smith

A special message of love from me. Mary.10


Correspondent:
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."

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman Esq, | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey | U.S. America. It is postmarked: London S.W. | 10 | Jun | 88; New York | Jun | 8 [illegible]; Paid | A | [illegible]; Camden N. [illegible] | Ju [illegible] 2 [illegible] | 6 AM | 88 | Rec'd. [back]

2. 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]

3. Karin Stephen (née Catherine Elizabeth Costelloe) (1889–1953) was the second daughter of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe. She would become a British psychoanalyst and psychologist, and the wife of Adrian Stephen (psychoanalyst and prominent member of the Bloomsbury Group, and brother of Virginia Woolf). [back]

4. Rachel Pearsall Conn Costelloe (1887–1940), known as Ray Strachey, was the first daughter of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe. She would later become a feminist writer and politician. [back]

5. 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). [back]

6. 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]

7. Smith may be referring to Rhys's sister Edith. Edwin Haviland Miller speculates that the "Edith" Whitman refers to in his June 26, 1887, letter to Rhys is Rhys's sister. See especially note 2. [back]

8. Olive Schreiner (1855–1920) was born in South Africa and became an author who was well known for her writings on gender, race, and class, as well as those opposed to British Imperialism in South Africa. Though she wrote a number of political works, she is now probably best known for her novel The Story of an African Farm and her feminist non-fiction tract Woman and Labour (Carolyn Burdett, "Introduction," Olive Schreiner [Tavistock:Northcote House Publishers, Ltd, 2013], 1–11). [back]

9. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. The postscript, added by Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, appears in the upper-left corner of the first page of the letter. [back]


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