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Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe to Walt Whitman, 28 November 1890

 loc.01399.001_large.jpg Dear Mr. Whitman—

Thy postal card of ten days ago has just come.1 It is so good of thee to write. I am ashamed when I think how long a silence I have kept—yet I have thought of thee very often I have been so busy—"facilis decensus"2—into politics!—and when once there, it is hard to get out. loc.01399.002_large.jpg Of course the one miserable thing occupying the political field is Parnell's incredible meanness. He has dealt the death blow to Home Rule in this generation, I am afraid.3 I feel so sorry for the many Liberals whose one cry and interest has been Home Rule. It is not so unhappy for me, because for several years all my work has been given to what seems to me infinitely more interesting than the machinery of politics—the reform of existing social abuses, such as the loc.01399.003_large.jpg overwork & underpay & the generally wretched conditions under which the poor live—The collapse of Home Rule will bring these questions much more to the front, but I think it means a Liberal defeat at the next election, as the Party is not prepared.

I feel quite in the vein of writing a volume of newspaper "leaders" on the subject, but I will refrain!

We are all so well—children & all. Ray4 goes to a little loc.01399.004_large.jpg Kindergarten school every day. Frank5 & I are going to spend our Xmas holiday at Rome, if all goes well.

Father6 is undergoing transformation into the "Country Squire" of fiction. He is wrapt up in "the place" at Haslemere, spends most of his time there.

Many thanks for all the papers, which greet me from time to time with a sight of thy hand writing.

Lovingly thine, Mary Whitall Costelloe

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. Costelloe is referring to Whitman's postal card of November 18, 1890. [back]
  • 2. The Latin phrase "facilis decensus" means "easy descent," and is often used in the sense of "the way to ruin" or "a slippery slope." [back]
  • 3. The term "Home Rule" is a reference to the Irish Home Rule movement that advocated for self-government for Ireland within the United Kingdom. Charles Stewart Parnell (1846–1891) was an Irish Nationalist Politician, Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and a Member of Parliament. The First Home Rule Bill, to which Parnell reacted with a mix of support and critique, was defeated in the House of Commons in 1886. For more on Parnell, see Paul Bew, "Parnell, Charles Stewart, (1846–1891)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004). [back]
  • 4. Rachel Pearsall Conn Costelloe (1887–1940), known as Ray Strachey, was the first daughter of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe. She would later become a feminist writer and politician. [back]
  • 5. Benjamin Francis Conn ("Frank") Costelloe (1854–1899), Mary Costelloe's first husband, was an English barrister and Liberal Party politician. [back]
  • 6. 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]
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