Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Robert Pearsall Smith to Walt Whitman, 14 November 1890

Date: November 14, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08183

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: Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, Marie Ernster, Stephanie Blalock, and Paige Wilkinson

page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4

44, Grosvenor Road,
Westminster Embankment.
S. W.
Nov 14th 1890

My dear friend

Thanks for your kind remembrance of me in your note & enclosure.1 I am a very dilatory correspondent and save in necessary business I hardly write a letter, "The Spirit does not move me" so, even to my near relatives & best friends. I am glad that Logan2 does better than his father—He is an improved edition in every way, dear fellow, I know not what will come out of him but he is cramming much into his head by hard, unremitting study—and in the Ancients whom you so detest or despise.

We are in the pivotal city of the world, within personal knowledge or touch of those who are guiding political, scientific, moral, philanthropic & religious [movements?] wh [illegible] round or [effect the?] whole world, and it is highly interesting for one who feels in conscience released responsibility for further work—to sit by a looker on in Venice3—and see the struggling tides flow past. I have my youth renewed to me in the extreme delight I take in our country home. We are now in our London house, but I spend two or three days a week in the country. I am building about 20 feet up a big oak tree a "House in the Garden" such as the East Indian sages retire to at leaving their property & cares to their families to find Nirvana and prepare for the great change. I have caught some of the pantheistic feeling of oneness in my spirit with nature & I have not been so restfully happy since I was a boy. Is it second childhood?

I am glad to hear so cheerful an account of you and that your true friends continue to gather around you. You have many, many friends not known to you in the flesh in England. Your place & fame are assured in the centers of anglo Saxon literature. I wish that you had a more attractive home than Mickle St Camden, which is a place as free from sentiment for a poets residence as could be found. But it is your choice & you are happy there as one of the uncounted millions whom you represent.

Thank you for remembering me from time to time with papers. I am anchored here, but it is at best a foreign port—Pennsylvania has been the home of my family for over 200 years and it is the place of my affections.

Logan is out here to join me in the message of love from Mary,4 Alys5 and

Your sincere friend
Robert 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. This letter has not been located. [back]

2. 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]

3. This phrase alludes to Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Act 5, Scene 1, where the Duke of Vienna, disguised as a Friar, claims that he is but “a looker-on here in Vienna.” [back]

4. 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]

5. 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]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.