Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Edward Carpenter to Walt Whitman, 17 May 1886

Date: May 17, 1886

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01240

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 note: The annotation, "Letter from Edward Carpenter May 17 '86 (£45 from friends birthday present)," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Nicole Gray, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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nr Chesterfield
17 May 18861

Dear old Walt

I just enclose a letter of credit for £45 on a bank in Philadelphia. It is the result of contributions, unsolicited, among a few friends

R. D. Roberts of Cambridge MA
Bessie H. Ford {of Leeds}
Isabella Ford2
Charles R Ashbee of Cambridge undergraduate3
Wm Thompson of Nottingham
& a brother & sister
and Myself.

We shall be very pleased if you will accept the little present as our remembrance of your birthday & we wish you good times & much happiness yet—with our love.

I have just heard from Maurice Bucke4—he writes from Dorset, & talks of coming north in a fortnight, so I hope to see him

Edward Carpenter5

I saw you had a good lecture in Phila.

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. Whitman has added the erroneous date "1866" to Carpenter's "17 May" and then has written in red the correct year, "1886." [back]

2. Bessie (d. 1919) and Isabella (1855–1924) Ford were sisters who lived together in Leeds, were friends and disciples (as well as cousins) of Carpenter, and active social reformers, working for women's suffrage, trade unionism, and an independent labor party. [back]

3. Charles Robert Ashbee (1863–1942) studied history at Cambridge University, then became an architect, heavily influenced by John Ruskin, William Morris, and the Arts and Craft movement; he designed handicrafts and jewelry as well as buildings. [back]

4. 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]

5. Whitman delivered his Lincoln lecture in the Chestnut Street Opera House in Philadelphia on April 15, 1886. [back]


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