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Walt Whitman to Mary Whitall Smith, 20 July 1885

2 3  loc.01345.001_large.jpg Dear Mary Smith

Your second letter (dated July 9) came an hour ago—welcomed, & read twice already—the acc't of the Toynbee?2 Hall doings & chat deeply interesting to me—I think much of all genuine efforts of the human emotions, the soul & bodily & intellectual powers, to exploit themselves for humanity's good—the efforts in themselves, I mean (sometimes I am not sure but they are the main matter)—without stopping to calculate whether the investment is tip-top in a business or statistical point of view. These libations, ecstatic life-pourings as it were of precious wine or rose-water on vast desert sands or great polluted river—taking chances for returns or no returns—what were they (or are they) but the theory & practice of the beautiful God Christ? or of all divine personality?

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We have had a week of furious hot weather here—& are having it yet—(seems to have concentrated in & around Philadelphia)—I keep pretty well, considering—dont go out at all till toward sundown, but get on the river two or three hours afterwards every even'g—I send in Phil. Press my last little piece3—you must chew upon it a little—my inward idea in it being the least literary or poetical, & most physiological & scientific—

My last letter from Dr. Bucke spoke of his going off with a sick friend & relative to the Canadian Rockies, a jaunt of six or seven weeks—I have heard lately from John Burroughs—he has been writing quite a piece ab't Matthew Arnold, which I tho't​ at first I w'd send you, but I believe I won't—as it is not very clear or encouraging—rather discouraging4

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Ab't myself & my own affairs there is nothing new or special to write, Mary dear. My house-lady Mrs. Davis continues to be in every respect (handiwork & atmosphere) the very best and most acceptable that could have befallen me—Hot as it is, & with several kind invitations away, I remain for the summer at my shanty in Mickle Street—upon the whole it is best for me—

Mary, I hope your next letter will tell me of a visit to Mrs. Gilchrist—As I close it suggests itself to me that I prepare one of the big photos (the one with hand up to mouth) & send you to give to the Toynbee? Hall folk—Love to you & all

Walt Whitman  loc.01345.006_large.jpg  loc.01343.001_large.jpg  loc.01343.002_large.jpg

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: Miss Mary Whitall Smith | by R Pearsall Smith | Care J S Morgan & Co: | Bankers | London | England. It is postmarked: PHILADELPHIA | JUL | 20 | 1885 | Paid [illegible]; LONDON [illegible] | H | JY 31 85 | AE. [back]
  • 2. Whitman's question mark (placed above "Toynbee" here and again at the end of the letter). On September 6 he sent "photos &c" to the Rev. S. A. Barnett, of London, "for Toynbee Hall" (Whitman's Commonplace Book). This settlement house was established by young Oxford fellows and named for Arnold Toynbee, a friend of Mary Smith's future husband. It was described in a letter from Eldridge to O'Connor on August 10: "It is a sort of priesthood, but of course the vows are self imposed—Walt is their great exemplar and teacher and they speak of him reverently as Master" (Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library). See also R. A. Parker, The Transatlantic Smiths (1959), 59. [back]
  • 3. "Ah, Not This Granite Dead and Cold," published in the Philadelphia Press on February 22, 1885. [back]
  • 4. Burroughs wrote to Whitman about his first meeting with Arnold on November 18, 1883. He discussed "Matthew Arnold's Criticism" in The Century Magazine, 36 (June 1888), 185–194. [back]
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