Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Susan Stafford, 6 February 1889

Date: February 6, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03874

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:282. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden 328 Mickle Street
'89
Wednesday forenoon Feb: 61

Quite sharp & cold this forenoon, & I am sitting by a good oak fire—Am still imprison'd in the sick room—Keep up spirits pretty fair, but weak as ever in my movements, & being kept indoor for most nine months begins to tell on me—I almost wonder I keep as well as I do—but I have been pretty low—the doctors—even Dr Bucke2—gave me quite up more than once—They just kept life like a little light prevented from being all put out (& this was the reason why I often had to deny friends from seeing me)—& for a month or so I was in a horrible plight—a nuisance to myself & all—but my nurse (Ed Wilkins,3 the Canadian young man Dr. B. sent) stuck to me & it has sort o' pass'd over—or at any rate the worst or it—At present I sit here in the room—Mrs Davis4 has just been in & wishes to send her love to you, & says come up & see us—my mentality ab't the same as ever (tho' I get very soon sore & tired reading, or being talked to)—& not much show of being any better—thankful that things are as well as they are with me—for they might be much worse—

Susan, your good letter came this forenoon & I was glad enough to hear from you all—I thank you so much for it I write all this rigmarole at once—Herbert5 paid me quite a visit last evn'g—I fancy he is doing well, & quite a fellow over there among the artists—I hear from Edw'd Carpenter6—he always wishes to be remembered to you all, specially Ed7—he seems to be well & doing well.—

My books are all completed, these last editions, wh' is a great relief. Eddy8 my crippled brother is still at Blackwood—(I yesterday paid the three months board bill $45.50 there) he is well, & seems to be well off & satisfied—young Harry Bonsall9 died there three or four weeks ago—my sisters at Greenport L I10 and Burlington Vermont11 are ab't as usual—my brother &12 sister Lou13 are well at Burlington this state—I think quite often of Harry,14 & wish you would send this letter over to him without fail the first chance you get—it is written largely to him—I have what I call sinking spells in my sickness, & I had one the day he last visited me—

My best love to him Eva and the little girl15
Love to you & George, Ed, Van, Deb & Jo and all16
WW


Correspondent:
Susan M. Stafford was the mother of Harry Stafford, who, in 1876, became a close friend of Whitman while working at the printing office of the Camden New Republic. Whitman regularly visited the Staffords at their family farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey. Whitman enjoyed the atmosphere and tranquility that the farm provided and would often stay for weeks at a time (see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 685).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Mrs Susan M Stafford | Kirkwood | Glendale | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Camden Feb 7 | N.J. [back]

2. 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]

3. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]

4. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. 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]

7. Edwin Stafford (1856–1906) was one of Susan Stafford's sons. [back]

8. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. His brother George Washington Whitman cared for him for most of the rest of his life, with financial support from Walt Whitman. For more information on Eddy, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Edward (1835–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Harry Bonsall was the son of the editor and politician Henry Lummis Bonsall. Bonsall and Whitman's brother Eddy lived in the same asylum, Blackwood. Bonsall died there in January 1889. See Whitman's February 28, 1881, letter to Harry Stafford. [back]

10. Mary Van Nostrand Whitman (1821–1899) was the daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walt Whitman's younger sister. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they lived in Greenport, Long Island. Mary and Ansel had five children: George, Minnie, Fanny, Louisa, and Ansel, Jr. See Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family (Durham: North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949), 208, 207. For more information on Van Nostrand Whitman, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Van Nostrand), Mary Elizabeth (b.1821)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. Hannah Heyde (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's youngest sister, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1890), a landscape painter. For more information about Hannah, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Heyde), Hannah Louisa (d. 1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on Charles Heyde, see Stevem Schroeder, "Heyde, Charles Louis (1822–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

12. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). As a Civil War correspondent, Walt wrote warmly about George's service, such as in "Our Brooklyn Boys in the War" (January 5, 1863); "A Brooklyn Soldier, and a Noble One" (January 19, 1865); "Return of a Brooklyn Veteran" (March 12, 1865); and "Our Veterans Mustering Out" (August 5, 1865). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with partner Mr. Smith and later a mason named French. George also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. Walt and George lived together for several years in Camden, but when Walt decided not to move with George and his wife Louisa in 1884, a rift occurred that was ultimately not mended before Walt's 1892 death. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

13. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (d. 1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Walt's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. Their son, Walter Orr Whitman, was born in 1875 but died the following year. A second son was stillborn. For more on Louisa, see Karen Wolfe, "Whitman, Louisa Orr Haslam (Mrs. George) (1842–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

14. 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]

15. Eva Westcott married Harry Stafford in 1884. [back]

16. Susan Stafford and her husband George were the parents of Edwin (1856-1906), Harry (b. 1858), Ruth (1864–1914), Van Doran (1864–1914), and Deborah Stafford. Deborah's husband, Joseph Browning, is likely the "Jo" Whitman mentions. [back]


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