Title: Edward Carpenter to Walt Whitman, 19 December 1877
Date: December 19, 1877
Editorial notes: The annotation, "splendid letter from | E Carpenter Dec 19 '77—," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "see notes May 21 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.
Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Ted Genoways (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004), vol. 7.
Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.01235
Contributors to digital file: Vince Moran, Eder Jaramillo, Alicia Bones, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein
I have (yesterday) sent a P.O.O for £2 for your 2 vols.1 They are ordered by Edward T. Wilkinson, 13 Micklegate, York—to whom please send them. He is a haberdasher in a large way of business—a very straight & true man. I hear from Vines2 that your books have arrived. He & Thompson (to whom you sent before) are lecturers at Cambridge, Haweis is a popular London preacher, Templeton is working music in London—organizing cheap concerts &c.— and Teall is teaching science at Nottingham. Your other two vols went to Carlile a solicitor at Hull. So you see the kind of audience that you have.
I want to say how splendid I think your 'Children of Adam.' I was reading those pieces again the other day, and of course they came back upon me, as your things always do, with new meaning. The freedom, the large spaces you make all round one, fill me with continual delight. I begin to see more clearly the bearing of it all on Democracy: that thought surges up more & more as the end & direction of all your writings. I don't know whether it is so. But this immense change that is taking place is absorbing to me now, and your writings seem the only ones that come close to the great heart of it and make it a living thing to one with all its fierce passions & contradictions and oceanic sort of life. I wish I could say what I mean. But it is to thank you. There is one thing that I never doubt for a moment—and that is your deepest relation to it all.
I am very well & happy. My term's work is over and I am going away for a month, to Cambridge & to Brighton. I should like to describe to you the life of these great manufacturing towns like Sheffield. I think you would be surprised to see the squalor & raggedness of them. Sheffield is finely situated, magnificent hill country all round about, and on the hills for miles & miles (on one side of the town) elegant villa residences—and in the valley below one enduring cloud of smoke, and a pale faced teeming population, and tall chimneys and ash heaps covered with squalid children picking them over, and dirty alleys, and courts and houses half roofless, and a river running black through the midst of them. It is a strange & wonderful sight. There is a great deal of distress just now—so many now being out of work—and it is impossible to pass through the streets without seeing it obvious in some form or other. (A man burst into floods of tears the other day when I gave him a bit of silver). But each individual is such a mere unit in the great crowd and they go and hide their misery away—easily enough.
With much love, dear friend,
1. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 1:160). For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
2. Sydney Howard Vines (1849–1934) was among Edward Carpenter's circle of Whitman admirers in England. On November 13, Carpenter sent Whitman—in a letter now lost—Vines's request for books. On November 27, 1877, Whitman sent the books (Leaves of Grass and Two Rivulets) and a post card to Vines. Whitman also sent a letter to Carpenter on November 27, noting, "have to-day mailed Mr Vines' books." At that time, Vines was Fellow and Lecturer in Botany at Christ's College, Cambridge, and later was named Sherardian Professor of Botany at Oxford. Vines's copy of Leaves of Grass inscribed by Whitman, "Sidney H. Vines from the author," was among the books offered for sale in the Spring 2001 catalog of Bertram Rota, Ltd., an antiquarian bookseller in London. [back]