Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Susan Stafford, 3 May 1887

Date: May 3, 1887

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. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977).

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03938

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Kevin McMullen, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden Tuesday morning
May 3 '87

Dear friend

I got home all right Sunday afternoon—had a nice enjoyable ride—enjoyed my visit anyhow—Yesterday I felt pretty dry, up in my room, & made a glass of drink, water, sugar & vinegar—from that bottle you gave me—such as I remember my dear mother1 making sixty years ago, for my father, of a hot day, when I was a little boy—& my drink went well too—Nothing new of any importance with me—Send you enclosed a letter just rec'd from Edward Carpenter2—the dear good young man—I have just written him a few lines—told him ab't Harry3—Warm & sunny to-day & I am sitting here with my window open—Mrs. D4 is off to Phil. & I shall be here alone all the forenoon. The bird is singing—the cars are puffing & rattling, & the children of the neighborhood are all outdoors playing—So I have music enough—Best love to you all—


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
Susan M. Stafford was the mother of Harry Stafford, who, in 1876, became a close friend of Whitman while working at the printing office of the Camden New Republic. Whitman regularly visited the Staffords at their family farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey. Whitman enjoyed the atmosphere and tranquility that the farm provided and would often stay for weeks at a time (see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 685).

Notes:

1. On May 23 Whitman noted in his Commonplace Book (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.) the "anniversary of dear mother's death—1873." [back]

2. 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]

3. Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (b. 1858) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in a December 13, 1876, letter to John H. Johnston), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. For further discussion of Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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