Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Stafford, George and Susan M.
Author:
Miller, David G.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

George and Susan Stafford were the parents of Harry Stafford, a young man Whitman met and befriended in the mid-1870s. Harry's parents were tenant farmers in Laurel Springs, outside of Glendale, near Camden, New Jersey. Harry invited Whitman to his family home, and Whitman immediately fell in love with the homestead and the intimate atmosphere. It reminded him of the Whitman family farm on Long Island that his parents had inherited from Whitman's paternal grandparents, Jesse and Hannah Whitman. After the initial visit to the Stafford farm, Whitman was to return several times over the following years, often staying for weeks at a time and paying for his lodging in order to help with family finances.

While he was with the Staffords, Whitman found the time to work on Specimen Days, an autobiographical piece in which he, among other things, wanted to record his reactions to the war. In that memoir he turns from the horrors of war's destruction to the comforts and joys of his adopted home. The Stafford family serves as a counterpoint to the disruption of the Civil War. At the farm he also planned much of the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass. Whitman only stopped going to the farm when his friendship with Harry Stafford became strained, which made the visits uncomfortable. He later wrote that among the Staffords he felt both loved and able to love, and that they had in a real way saved his life after the horrors of the Civil War.

Bibliography

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. 1980. New York: Bantam Books, 1982.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. 6 vols. New York: New York UP, 1961–1977.


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