Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Robert Pearsall Smith, 10 May 1890

Date: May 10, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03844

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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Camden New Jersey
U S America1
May 10 '90

I am easier again for the present, after a severe whack again of the grip

—Enclosed four or five slips a little poemet—I wonder if it would be worth while to send them around to the London papers, to be used if they think proper, on the morning of the Queen's birth day—If you think so, send the slips round for me & let them take their chances. Make the choice of papers yourself. I have sent some2 to Ernest Rhys,3 & it might be worth while to see him4—Some time now since I have heard from you or Mary.5 Dr Bucke6 is to be here this coming week.

Best best remembrances
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. This letter is addressed: R Pearsall Smith | 44 Grosvenor Road | the Embankment | London | England. It is postmarked: Camden [illegible] | May 10 | 8 PM | 90, London. S. W. | 26 | MY22 | 90, Philadelphia, PA | MAY10 | 11PM. [back]

2. This may be referring to a letter from Whitman to Ernest Rhys of May 10, 1890. [back]

3. 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]

4. On this date Walt Whitman received proofs of "For Queen Victoria's Birthday" and "On, on the Same, Ye Jocund Twain!" The former appeared in the Philadelphia Public Ledger on May 22 (see William Sloane Kennedy, The Fight of a Book for the World (1926), 271) and also in The Critic 16 (May 24, 1890): 262. It was printed in the Pall Mall Gazette on May 24, thanks to the labors of Rhys, which he recorded at somewhat precious length in his May 24, 1890, letter. Whitman sent the second poem to the Century; see May 12, 1890, letter to Richard Maurice Bucke. R. W. Gilder of The Century rejected the poem in his letter to the poet of May 14, 1890, and the poem was eventually published in the June 9, 1891, issue of Once a Week[back]

5. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about Costelloe, 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]

6. 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]


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