Skip to main content

Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe to Walt Whitman, 21 October 1886

 loc.01354.001_large.jpg Dear Mr. Whitman—

Thy card of the 4th greeted us on our return home from Wales last night.1 How I wish that it contained really good news, it is dreadful for thee to have to keep thy room so long!

I am sending thee Mr. Summers'2 account of his delightful visit to thee. I am so grateful to thee for seeing him—I suppose it was my letter he presented? He is a curious man, with first rate  loc.01354.002_large.jpg political ability, but extraordinarily lazy. He has been a very intimate friend of my husband's since their College days, but I do not know him very well. I often see him hovering on the outskirts of a crowd at large parties, but he seems too lazy to talk to anybody. If he were more energetic he could rise to be one of the Liberal Leaders, but he has been cursed with a comfortable income, & has never been forced to work. The parable of the Camel & the Needle's Eye is not confined to the Kingdom of Heaven.

We have returned to a sea of work. Frank & Sam both  loc.01354.003_large.jpg going as delegates to the great Liberal Convention at Birmingham—where we are to read modest papers on political subjects. The great event will be Mr. Gladstone's3 speech—wh.​ is to be phonographed!

We have all had a delightful summer together in Wales. Father's health is quite restored, &, in spite of the loss of one eye, he is able to read & drive & follow his usual course of life. Little Ray4 gets more enchanting every day. She can say over 50 words by this time, & she is beginning to take an interest in dolls. She has a perfect temper & robust health.

Please thank Mr. Gilchrist,5 if  loc.01354.004_large.jpg thee sees him soon, for the paper he sent me. I am glad he succeeded in getting the appointment, & I think the Phila.​ Academy is to be congratulated.

I shall await with the greatest interest the copy of "November Boughs." Will it be on sale at all in England?

I have an accumulation of 20 letters to write today—so I must make my first one short.

With love, thy friend, Mary Costelloe.

P.S. Father & Alys6 & two of her friends start on a driving trip from Wales to London tomorrow. Logan is at Oxford.

Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945), daughter of Hannah Whitall and Robert Pearsall Smith, 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).


  • 1. The card is not extant. [back]
  • 2. The Irishman William Summers (1853–1893) was a member of the British Parliament, junior whip of the Liberal Party, and strong proponent of Irish home rule. He visited Whitman on September 26, 1888. His account of the visit was published in The Pall Mall Gazette on October 18, 1888. Whitman said of the visit that "Summers hit me hard. He made a grand show-up—had fine ways—was young, strong, optimistic" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, September 26, 1888). [back]
  • 3. William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898) was a British Liberal politician and Prime Minister of Great Britain for four separate terms. In 1886, he unsuccessfully proposed home rule for Ireland. [back]
  • 4. Rachel ("Ray") Pearsall Conn Costelloe (1887–1940) was the daughter of Mary Smith-Costelloe; she would grow up to be a feminist writer and politician. [back]
  • 5. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Alys Pearsall Smith (1867–1951) was a social activist and the wife of philosopher Bertrand Russell. Smith was the daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, a Quaker religious leader, evangelist, map publisher, and friend of Whitman. [back]
Back to top