Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Robert Pearsall Smith to Walt Whitman, 28 August 1890

Date: August 28, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03846

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: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock

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Augus 28th 1890

My dear friend,

Your letter1 respecting package of books sent is at hand. I will see to their distribution as named. Accept my thanks for your valued gift to myself of your writings. It makes life "lively" to have so many attacks along with the hearty praises. The wind on both sides should enable you to steer straight. Miss Repplier, of W.Phila a bright member of the Contemporary Club & our authoress2 has been with us this week bringing new accounts of you & your talk at the club. You can take both the strokings of your fur, down & up, very quietly now, without getting into a rage at the one or being unsettled by the other.

I am very sorry that you [h]ave to endure the terrible heats of our climate—but now the autumn days will bring you relief.

We are spending our summer on a place we have taken on a 21 years lease, longer than our lease of life. It has about 180 acres—160 of it in very beautiful woods over a mile long & full of the most delightful things. We look across a wide valley to a great tract of pines in the distance.

The question is continually before me as to whether I have right with me in occupying so much space for private pleasures—"Its a muddle" of strange & conflicting "rights," this our complicated civilization I give myself the benefit of the doubt & confusion. Mary3 & her husband4 & guests come in to us to meals—Logan5 studies hard—recuperating in the saddle—and Alys6 makes sunshine in all the house, gathering many young & charming guests to share her pleasures. I am fast "ageing" and find great delight in the beautiful forms of nature around us. A vista cut through the woods gives us a western prospect—the setting sun in its glories. When, oh, when! will there be a vista through the perplexing obstructing surroundings of life to show us the eternal verities. We are both near the disrobing—where & how will come "the clothing upon" of eternity. Do you feel any nearer to the solution of this than when we last talked it all over?

Good bye—God be with ye—All are just now away but myself. Accept the kind greetings of

Yours faithfully
R. Pearsall Smith

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. Robert Pearsall Smith is likely referring to the letter Whitman addressed to his son, Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946), dated August 12, 1890. [back]

2. The Contemporary Club was a Philadelphia literary circle established in 1886 by the essayist Agnes Repplier. In 1887, Whitman gave a reading of "The Mystic Trumpeter" and "A Voice from the Sea" at the club. [back]

3. 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]

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

5. 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). [back]

6. 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]


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