Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Alfred Carpenter to Walt Whitman, 31 May 1890

Date: May 31, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01208

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

Contributors to digital file: Kara Wentworth, Andrew David King, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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31st May 1890

Dear Sir

Many people in this country, who are admirers of my brother Edward Carpenter,1 author of "Towards Democracy" "Englands Ideal"2 etc have asked me to collect materials for writing his life—

As I feel convinced that he has been to a very great extent a disciple of your opinions, and that the influence of your writings is shewn in all his more poetical touches, I take the liberty of writing to ask if you would send me in a few words your opinion of his books, and of his personality, if you can remember his visit to you he once made.3

Hoping you will pardon my presumpt[ion] & kindly accede to my request,

Believe me to be
Dear Sir
Yours truly
Alfred Carpenter
Commander R.N.

Alfred Carpenter (1847–1925) was a member of the Royal Navy and educated at Brighton College. Carpenter was part of a distinguished naval family, the son of Commander Charles Carpenter (d.1882) and father of Vice-Admiral Alfred Francis Carpenter (1881–1955). For his service with the Marine Survey of India during the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885, he became the first naval officer to receive England's Distinguished Service Order. For more information, see his obituary in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association 35 (1925), 241–242.


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." 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. Towards Democracy was a book-length poem expressing Carpenter's ideas about "spiritual democracy" and how to achieve a more just society. The work was influenced by Whitman's Leaves of Grass and the Bhagavad Gita, the work of Hindu scripture. England's Ideal: And other papers on Social Subjects was a collection of Socialist essays discussing such issues as labor, trade, and property. [back]

3. Edward Carpenter traveled to the United States to visit Whitman for several weeks in 1877 and again in 1884. Carpenter would later publish an account of his time with the poet in his book Days with Walt Whitman: with some notes on his life and work (1906). [back]


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