Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Susan Stafford, 19–20 June 1890

Date: June 19–20, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03880

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: Ryan Furlong, Amanda J. Axley, Marie Ernster, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
June 19 1890

My dear friend & all

It is a wonderful fine day, cool enough & I am feeling fairly—every thing going right (but of course steadily down hill)—Young George1 was here, & I was glad to see him—he looks well—I hear from Dr Bucke2 f'm Canada, & f'm Edw'd Carpenter3—he is well—my friends the Smiths4 (of Germantown) are all settled in London & seem to like it—Herbert5 is still at Centreport Long Island6—I get splendid letters f'm Col. Ingersoll7 & a noble book of his later pieces (I wish dear Harry8 could see them all—he would gloat over them)—I get out in wheel chair9—am quite helpless & if I live much longer shall be blind—Love to you & George10 & Ed11 & Deb12 & all—this card is the dinner card13 for curiosity—


Walt Whitman

June 20

Another fine bright day—all ab't as usual—all well & quiet—best love & wishes to you all—


Correspondent:
Susan M. Lamb Stafford (1833–1910) was the mother of Harry Stafford (1858–1918), 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. Whitman is likely referring to George Westcott Stafford (1890–1984). George was the son of Harry L. Stafford (1858–1918) and Eva Westcott Stafford (1856–1906); he was Susan Stafford's grandson. [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 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]

4. Whitman is referring to the family of Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898). Smith, an evangelical minister, and his wife Hannah Whitall Smith (1831–1911) had three children: Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945), Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946), and Alys Pearsall Smith (1867–1951). The Smith family were all friends and supporters of Whitman. For more about the Smith family, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," 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. Gilchrist, after living for years in Philadelphia and often accompanying Whitman to the Staffords' farm, relocated and settled along the shore of Centrepoint Cove on Long Island. [back]

7. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

8. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (1858–1918) 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. In 1883, Harry married Eva Westcott. 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]

9. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

10. George Stafford (1827–1892) was Susan's husband. [back]

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

12. Deborah Stafford Browning (1860–1945) was Susan's Stafford's daughter. [back]

13. Apparently Whitman enclosed the menu and program for his 71st birthday dinner, held in Philadelphia on May 31, 1890, with a number of distinguished guests, including the famous orator Robert G. Ingersoll. [back]


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