Title: Edward Carpenter to Walt Whitman, 28 March 1880
Date: March 28, 1880
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.
Location: Charles Sixsmith Collection at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester
Whitman Archive ID: man.00027
Contributors to digital file: Alicia Meyer, Eder Jaramillo, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein
17. Holland Place
Easter Sunday 1880
It is a long time since I wrote to you1—but I have heard a good deal about you from the Gilchrists2—about your journey West and back again. I am glad you have seen it all, and are satisfied—and the great mountains of Colorado—did they not make your soul shout? I would like to see you and be with you for a little time—it would seem so restful. I wonder now whether you have good friends about you at Camden, and feel at peace, spite of illness. Do you sometimes feel really satisfied, and as if you didn't care what happened, knowing it is done and can never be undone—dear Walt I wish you could live and renew your strength again in all those whom you have delivered. But perhaps you do so. I have long had it on my mind to write and ask you about the possibility of publishing a cheaper edition of yr Leaves of Grass in England;—there are so many now who cannot afford the long price of present editions. I have thought that the sale might be so increased by a cheaper edition (say a 7/6 one) as even to pay you. But then there is the difficulty of publishers (Trübner wd I think do you justice); and of course you could not issue your present stereotyped edn in England at a lower price than in America. Still, what if a few friends in England combined to undertake the expense of a comparatively cheap edition, sell it through Trübner or some other publisher, and the profits to go to you. Would you approve? I have thought a good deal about it, and that is the only feasible plan wh occurs to me—that will make the book accessible to the people, and also pay you. But then again, would such a cheaper edn be pirated across the Atlantic & sold in the U.S.A in competition with yours? Of course you have thought all this over: but you may not realise, what I am only beginning to realise, the great demand wh is likely to arise here for your works, not among the literary world but among the ordinary working day world. I have often been asked lately about cheaper editions—
A friend of mine, a carpenter, writes "I need not tell you not to forget 'Leaves of Grass' wh I have no doubt will please me as much as did 'Dem Vistas'. If I had sent you the references I made (and I made them to send to you) you would have been amused for I had marked almost every page and almost every paragraph. I considered it would be better to praise the whole book, for it is all excellent. It is to be hoped Whitman will publish a cheaper edition of his splendid works. He is one of those whom mankind in the future will surely know better than now how to honour." I believe I once mentioned to you a Mrs Hardy who is now out in Penna (Lawrence Co). If she ever comes to find you out—you will receive her. But I will not quote what she says of you—and yet I think I will—she says "I have not felt it a 'new birth of the soul' [merely?], I felt that his poems were the food for which my poor weak soul was longing. Oh I do love him, the dear earnest old man, I want so much to see him to take him by the [left?] hand and standing palm to palm look away up into his blue eyes and say 'Walt Whitman I love you'. There are only a very few men I know to whom I could say it, but he I know would be able to understand all I mean by it; and it wd do us both good—in no other way could I tell him how much I admire his poems".
About myself, I feel that I cannot go on with this lecturing—and in a month I hope to be at work out in the country near here—at first on some land of Ruskins3—but perhaps not for very long so. When you see Harry Stafford4 give him my love and say I am going to send him a photo: and hope he will send me one.
Goodbye, dear friend whom I do not ever forget. I wish I could be near you, in body, as I am in soul
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. Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885), widow to Alexander Gilchrist, and her four children Beatrice, Grace, Percy and Herbert. Anne Gilchrist wrote one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, titled "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman (From Late Letters by an English Lady to W. M. Rossetti)," Radical 7 (May 1870), 345–59. Gilchrist's long correspondence with Whitman indicates that she had fallen in love with the poet after reading his work; when the pair met in 1876 when she visited Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. Anne's son Herbert (1857–1914) was a painter and shared his mother's fascination for Whitman. For more on Whitman and the Gilchrists, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows." [back]
3. John Ruskin (1819–1900) was one of the leading art critics in Victorian Great Britain. Whitman sent Leaves of Grass and a "couple of photographs" to Ruskin via William Harrison Riley in March 1879 (see the letter from Whitman to Riley of March 18, 1879). Ruskin, according to Whitman, expressed "worry [...] that [Leaves is] too personal, too emotional, launched from the fires of [...] spinal passions, joys, yearnings" (see the letter from Whitman to William O'Connor of October 7, 1882). Whitman, late in life, said to Horace Traubel: "[I] take my Ruskin with some qualifications." Still, Ruskin "is not to be made little of: is of unquestionable genius and nobility" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 24, 1889). [back]
4. 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]