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Walt Whitman to Robert Pearsall Smith, 10 March [1884]

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I am getting better—slowly but decidedly—my young friend died yesterday at noon3


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 postal card is addressed: R Pearsall Smith | 4653 Germantown Avenue | Philadelphia. It is postmarked: Camden | Mar | 11 | 7 AM | 1884 | N.J.; Philad Pa | Mar | 11 | 8 AM | Recd; and, on verso of postal card: Rec'd Phila | Mar 11 84 | 11 AM. [back]
  • 2. Smith called on the poet on March 8—"earnest & friendly, deeply so" (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). In May, Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke stayed with Smith, and during his visit there was discussion of a "project for the special ed'n L of G. backed by Mr. S. and Dr. Mr S's sudden & peremptory withdrawal from the project (Mrs. S 'wouldn't allow the book to be brought in the house')" (Whitman's Commonplace Book). Evidently Mrs. Smith's censure did not extend to the poet himself, since she and her daughters on his birthday sent sheets and a bolster (see the letter from Whitman to Mary Whitall Smith of May 28, 1884). [back]
  • 3. On March 8, Whitman spent "all the day & evening" with Tasker Lay, who, when the poet met him in 1881, was "15 or 16." The young man died on the following day and was buried on March 12 (Whitman's Commonplace Book). About this time Whitman gave the boy's grandfather, Alfred, a laborer, various sums of money, including $16 for the rent due on the house at 328 Mickle Street (see Whitman's Commonplace Book and his letter to John Burroughs of March 27, 1884). The Lays rented the house at the time (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [1955], 516). According to entries in his Commonplace Book, Whitman paid Mrs. Lay $2 weekly from April 5 to September 27. [back]
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