Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Edward Carpenter to Walt Whitman, 12 July 1874

Date: July 12, 1874

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01231

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.

Editorial notes: The annotation, "Edwd Carpenter," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "Camden N.J.," is in an unknown hand. The annotation, "see notes May 15 88," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Eder Jaramillo, Kevin McMullen, John Schwaninger, Caterina Bernardini, Cristin Noonan, Marie Ernster, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock

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Trinity Hall
Cambridge, England.
12. July 1874.1

My dear friend

It is just dawn, but there is light enough to write by, and the birds in their old sweet fashion are chirping in the little College garden outside. My first knowledge of you is all entangled with that little garden. But that was six years ago; so you must not mind me writing to you now because you understand, as I understand, that I am not drunk with new wine.

My chief reason for writing (so I put it to myself) is that I can't help wishing you should know that there are many here in England to whom your writings have been as the waking up to a new day. I daresay you do not care, particularly, how your writings, as such, are accepted; but I know that you do care that those thoughts you weary not to proclaim should be seized upon by others over the world and become the central point of their lives, and that something even transcending all thought should knit together us in England & you in America by ties closer than thought & life itself. When I say 'many', of course I do not mean a multitude (I wish I did) but many individuals—each, himself (or herself, for they are mostly women—fluid, courageous & tender) the centre of a new influence. All that you have said, the thoughts that you have given us, are vital—they will grow—That is certain. You cannot know anything better than that you have spoken the word which is on the lips of God today.

And here, though dimly, I think I see the new, open, life which is to come: the spirit moving backwards & forwards beneath the old forms—strengthening & re-shaping the foundations before it alters the superstructure: the growth is organic too here I believe, but the flower is very very far and we do not dare to think even what it will be like.

There is no hope, almost none, from English respectability. Money eats into it, to the core. The Church is effete. At school the sin which cannot be Forgiven is a false quantity. The men are blindly material; low—to the most intellectual—Art & the desire for something like religion are only known as a continual sense of pain. Yet the women will save us. I wish I could tell you what is being done by them—everywhere—in private & in public. The artisans too are shaping themselves. While society is capering & grimacing over their heads they are slowly coming to know their minds; and exactly as they come to know their minds they come to the sense of power to fulfil them: and sweet will the day be when the toys are wrested from the hands of the children and they too have to become men.

You hardly know, I think, in America (where the life, though as yet material, is so intense) what the relief is here to turn from the languid inanity of the well fed, to the clear hard lines of the workman's face.

Yesterday there came (to mend my door) a young workman with the old divine light in his eyes—even I call it old though I am not 30—and perhaps, more than all, he has made me write to you. Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. (—and others thank you, though they do not say so.) For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature. Women are beautiful; but, to some, there is that wh' passes the love of women.

It is enough to live wherever the divine beauty of love may flash on men; but indeed its real & enduring light seems infinitely far from us in this our day. Between the splendid dawn of Greek civilization and the high universal noon of Democracy there is a strange horror of darkness on us. We look face to face upon each other, but we do not know.

At the last, it is enough to know that the longed for realisation is possible—will be, has been, is even now somewhere—even though we find it not. The pain of disappointment is, somewhere, the joy of fruition.

Perhaps it will be, in time, with you in the New or with us in the Old world. Slowly—I think—the fetters are falling from men's feet, the cramps & crazes of the old superstitions are relaxing, the idiotic ignorance of class contempt is dissipating. If men shall learn to accept one another simply & without constraint, if they shall cease to regard themselves because the emptiness of vanity is filled up with love, and yet shall honour the free immeasurable gift of their own personality, delight in it & bask in it without false shames & affectations—then your work will be accomplished: and men for the first time will know of what happiness they are capable.

Dear friend, you are older & wiser than me & can accept all that I have said, with a smile perhaps, but without any ill will. It is a pleasure to me to write to you, for there are many things which I find it hard to say to any one here. And for my sake you must not mind reading what I have written.

As to myself, I was in Orders; but I have given that up—utterly. It was no good. Nor does the university do: there is nothing vital in it. Now I am going away to lecture to working men & women in the North. They at least desire to lay hold of something with a real grasp. And I can give something of mathematics & science. It may be no use, but I shall see.

You I suppose I shall not see. Yet if any one should come from your side to England—this address will always find me. There are many who, if their pens were here, would send greetings to you across the sea.

Farewell: wherever the most common desires & dreams of daily life are—wherever the beloved opposition is, of hand to hand or of soul to soul—I sometimes think to meet you.

I have finished this at night. All is silent again: and as at first I am yours

Edward Carpenter.2

To Walt Whitman

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).


1. This letter is addressed: To Walt Whitman | Post Office | Washington D. C. | U.S. America. It is postmarked: CAMBRIDGE | JY 13 | [74.]; [JUL]; WASHINGTON | JUL | 2 [illegible] [back]

2. An unknown hand, likely a postal worker, crossed out "Washington D.C." on the envelope and wrote "Camden N.J." Whitman had moved from Washington D.C. to Camden. It is likely that Carpenter was unaware of the matter, as this would be his first impassioned letter to Whitman. [back]


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