Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Susan Stafford, 30 July 1889

Date: July 30, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03876

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Alex Ashland, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
noon July 30 '891

Well friends all, here I am yet (surely but rather slowly going down hill) not so much very different from of old, but more so—more lame & helpless in body, dimmer in sight & harder in hearing—yet in pretty good spirits—warm & wet weather here, & lots of it—stand it yet here, thro' the summer mostly because I have to & can't help it, but it is very oppressive & stale here much of the time—but it might be much much worse, & I get along—Mrs. D2 and Ed Wilkins3 (my nurse) are good & so far I get along fairly with appetite, grub & sleep wh' of course make the foundation of all—

—Herbert4 comes over quite frequently, & is well & I guess doing well (I hear of you all by him—otherwise you might as well be at the antipodes)—sickness & death are all around me here, & on the houses each side—I sit in the big chair all day & pass away the time as well as I can—

—Dr B5 is still in Canada—is well—I hear from him often—I had a letter from Ruth6 enclosed, (tho' I suppose she has written to you)—I send my love to Harry7—have not heard from or seen him in a long time—Love to you & George8 and to Ed9 & Deb10 & Van11 & young Geo & to Jo12—not forgetting the children—

Lord bless you all
Walt Whitman


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 Stafford | Kirkwood | (Glendale) | New Jersey. It is postmarked: C[amde?]n, N.J | Jul 30 | 8 PM | 89; Kirkwood | Jul | 31 | 1889 | N.J. [back]

2. 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]

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. 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]

5. 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]

6. One of Harry Stafford's sisters (1866–1939), later Ruth Stafford Goldy. [back]

7. Walt 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]

8. George Stafford was the father of Harry Stafford, a young man whom Whitman befriended in 1876 in Camden. Harry's parents, George and Susan Stafford, were tenant farmers at White Horse Farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey, where Whitman visited them on several occasions. For more on Whitman and the Staffords, see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M." Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 685. [back]

9. Edwin Stafford (1856–1906) was the brother of Harry Stafford, a close acquaintance of Whitman. [back]

10. Deborah Stafford was the sister of Harry Stafford. She married Joseph Browning. See Daybooks and Notebooks, ed. William White (New York: New York University Press, 1978), 1:35. [back]

11. Van Doran Stafford (1864–1914) was one of Harry Stafford's brothers. [back]

12. "Jo" probably refers to Joseph Browning, Deborah Stafford's husband. [back]


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