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Robert Pearsall Smith to Walt Whitman, 31 March 1889

 loc_jc.00203_large.jpg My dear friend,

I was glad to hear by your postal that you are getting along without an increase of suffering. I wish that we all were near you, if so be that we might make an occasional hour brighter for you & contribute to your exterior comforts. I see no time to be fixed for our return. Alys1 proposes to go to Bryn Mawr College in September & then will visit you. She will return to us if all is well in June 1890 with her diploma in her pocket.

She, with her mother,2 a niece & myself have been wandering  loc_jc.00204_large.jpgthis winter through Paris, Marseilles, the paradise of Nice and the Riviera, Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Switzerland & home escaping thus the melancholy skies of London with its "pea soup" smoky atmosphere.

Logan3 is doing well at his college at Oxford & is studying faithfully in his vacation at home.

Mary's second daughter,4 3 weeks old, opens new hopes & joys—but through much suffering. Her husband5 is in the new London City Council and is becoming prominent in abilities & in his profession as a barrister.


My old enemy "melancholia" spreads its vampire wings still over my life and will I presume go with me to the end. I take it quietly, as a physical disease simply & live on remembering the phrase—"Its dogged that does it."

So I have not much to tell. Yet it is fun to be in the midst of this great fermenting intense life of London as an on looker.

I see with interest that you have issued a complete edition6 of your writings. You have many, many devoted friends in England among  loc_jc.00206_large.jpgthoughtful people who would delight to see you here.

Good bye, dear old friend,—Write me when your spirit moves you & tell me how you are.

With love from our children I am always

Yours affectionately 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. Alys Smith (1867–1951) was a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith and the sister of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe. She eventually married the philosopher Bertrand Russell. [back]
  • 2. Hannah Whitall Smith (1832–1911) was a speaker and author in the Holiness movement in the United States and the Higher Life Movement in Great Britain. She also participated in the women's suffrage movement. She was the wife of Robert Pearsall Smith and the mother of Mary, Alys, and Logan Pearsall Smith. [back]
  • 3. Logan was the son of Robert Pearsall Smith and Hannah Whitall Smith; for more about him, 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]
  • 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. Benjamin Francis Conn Costelloe (1854–1899), Mary's first husband, was an English barrister and Liberal Party politician. [back]
  • 6. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," was published by the poet himself—in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
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