Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, 22 January 1890

Date: January 22, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07750

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:21–22. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

Camden N J U S America
Jan: 22 18901

Dear Mary Costelloe

Sunny, cold, dry, very seasonable day, I continue on much the same—get out a little in wheel chair (but doubtful to-day—pretty sharp cold)—have quite rousing oak fire, & great wolf skin fur on my big-limb'd ratan chair—Alys2 was here Sunday, & I rec'd yesterday a nice letter3 f'm Logan4—a day or two before the "Spectator" f'm thy father5—(so I am not neglected or forgotten)—Give my best thanks & love to all—am writing a little (enclosed I fancy will be in Feb: Century)6—three slips, one for thy father—one for Logan—

Probably every thing in our great United States (now 42 of them) goes on well all in a monotonous & matter of fact way—"blessed is that country that has no history"—we have an unprecedently humdrum President7 & big men, but down in the myriad inner popular currents the moral & literary & pecuniary & even political flow & good flow are grand—we can console our hearts with that—on a great democratic scale the present & here are probably ahead & better than all time past, or any other land—& thats what America is for—& that satisfies me—that general unmistakable certain trend does—I dont mind little bothers & exceptions & some hoggishness—

Love to you all—
Walt Whitman

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).


1. This letter is addressed: Mrs: Mary Whitall Costelloe | 40 Grosvenor Road | the Embankment | London | England. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jan 23 | 6 AM | 90. [back]

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

3. This letter from Logan Pearsall Smith is not extant. [back]

4. Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946) was Mary Costelloe's brother. For more information on Smith, 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]

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. Whitman's poem "Old Age's Ship & Crafty Death's" appeared in the February 1890 issue of the Century[back]

7. Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901) was the twenty-third U.S. president and grandson of the ninth president, William Henry Harrison. Harrison was the Republican nominee who defeated Democratic incumbent Grover Cleveland in 1888. Whitman had very negative views of Harrison, once calling him a "scalawag" and a "shit-ass": "I never had any faith in him, in his course!" See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, April 21, 1889[back]


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