Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Logan Pearsall Smith to Walt Whitman, 30 November 1888

Date: November 30, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03821

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: Ryan Furlong, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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Balliol College Oxford
Nov. 30 1888

Dear Mr. Whitman,

I wonder if I have anything to chronicle that will interest you? Yesterday was Thanksgiving so I went up to dine & to stay all night with the family. We were all there, including the baby, who had been especially taught to say "Uncle" for the occasion. After the exile's turkey & plum pudding—we had to do without the pumpkin pie of course—we gave a play that they had written. It was called "Wilhelmina's Lehrjahre"—an imitation of Wilhelm Meister1—& depicted the various experiences of a young American girl in London. She takes up varieus enthusiasms& joins various brotherhoods in succession. Alys2 was the heroine & Frank Costelloe3 & I appeared as the apostles of various creeds. In the first scene I explained to her the esoteric meanings of aesthetic symbolism, & she makes up her mind to devote herself to the study of drapery & colour. But that shortly palls,& in the next scene she appears in the country; travelling around in Home Rule van & delivering speeches on the Irish Question. Costelloe takes the chair & introduces her with an eloquent address to the two old market women that compose the meeting. She then makes her address, but in the middle one half the meeting gives a snort & goes out, & at the end the other half asks some questions that she is quite unable to answer. So she then, having met a young man who convinces her that the only way in which the stage can be reformed is by all educated people going on it, determines to become an actress. This turns out in the next scene to be no greater success & at last she is converted to Socialism. This goes all very well for a while until the socialist league decides that all women must dress alike in dresses made out of buckram. At this the American girl gives out, says that she is willing to dress cheaply, but not unbecomingly, rises in her wrath & says that she is going back to America.

The play was really very funny, especially as it was a take off on some of our friends, whom Mariechen4 had invited to see it. We half expected, as the play went on that the socialists, politicians, & aesthetics in the audience would get up & go out, but everybody took it in good nature. Ernest Rhys5 was there & told us about seeing you last June.

Coming down in the train to Oxford I read Specimen Days & Collect. I am so glad that the idea came to you of printing those notes, in all the books that I have been reading lately, Greek, Latin, or French, there has been nothing that has done me so much good. I hope there are more Specimen Days forthcoming, indeed, is not a promise of future instalments promised by the word Specimen? I think it means that what you have published are only the samples or specimens of what you are going to give us later. The student who lives just above me is reading Leaves of Grass for the first time, & comes down in the evening sometimes & reads it out to me. He is one of our best orators at the "Union" & reads very well, you would enjoy hearing him.

I hope the autumn has not been hard on you,, here it is very wet & dismal, but I manage to be out of doors a good deal every day, in the healthy Oxford way. You must pardon my type writer & my gossiping letter, but I wanted you to know tha that I & all of us often think of you & talk about you.

With much love
Logan P. Smith


Correspondent:
Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was an essayist and literary critic. He was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith, a minister and writer who befriended Whitman, and he was the brother of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, one of Whitman's most avid followers. 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).

Notes:

1. Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (German title: Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre) is a novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, published in 1795–96. [back]

2. Alys Smith (1867–1951) was Logan's and Mary's sister. She would eventually marry the philosopher Bertrand Russell. [back]

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

4. "Mariechen" was Logan's pet name for his sister Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe. Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." 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]

5. 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]


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