Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Susan Stafford, [(30?) (December?) 1887]

Date: December 30, 1887

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:138. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

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

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07362

Contributors to digital file: Ryan Furlong, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock




328 Mickle Street—Camden1

Thursday—we have just had dinner & I have come in the front room by the fire—A deep snow everywhere outside, but comfortable here—the little canary bird singing blythely & I feeling pretty well for me though indeed as the hymn says—"Old age is creeping on with its great load of sin."2

I havn't heard from you or seen any of you in some weeks—hope everything goes on right—Hope you or George3 or both of you will come here soon & spend some hours & stay to dinner—Mrs. Davis4 spoke of it Thanksgiving Day—& we both would be glad to have you both come yet—Everything goes now with me about as usual—have not been as well as usual the last month—send one of Herbert's5 last letters enclosed—Dr. B[ucke]6 speaks of Harry7 in his last and wants to know if anything has been done—Love to you and George & Ed8 & all—

The roads and going are dreadful at present—


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. Miller derives his transcription from a transcript held in The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman at the Library of Congress. This letter appears to have been written in December 1887. Harry Stafford was having throat trouble at the time. Based upon Whitman's letters and the entries in Whitman's Commonplace Book (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), Whitman's income in 1887 amounted to at least $2,575.98, which includes: royalties, $131.91; lectures, $620.00; sales of books, $95.75; payments for articles and poems, $233.00; gifts, $1,421.32; and sale of photographs, $74.00. (As noted in the letter from Whitman to the Editor of The Critic, December (?), 1886, the figures for book sales are conjectural, since it is assumed he charged a uniform price.) [back]

2. Whitman is thinking here of the hymn sometimes called "Calvary," beginning "Come, O my heart," with the lines "There is no time so good as youth, / To travel this mountain you must see, / For when old ages comes on, with its great load of sin, / How then canst thou climb up Calvary." [back]

3. George Stafford was the father of Harry Stafford. [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]

5. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Walt 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]

8. Edwin Stafford (1856–1906) was the brother of Harry Stafford, a close acquaintance of Whitman. [back]


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