Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Susan Stafford, 1 December 1890

Date: December 1, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03883

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: Sam Burns, Emma Van Hooser, Justine Bogle, Stephanie Blalock, and Alex Ashland

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Dec: 1 '90

Cloudy & rain & dark weather to-day & looks like snow out—has been a rather gloomy week past with me—my dear brother Jeff2 died last Tuesday at St Louis, had typhoid pneumonia but was over the worst of it, & then some heart attack which proved mortal—Jessie3 the daughter was here, & hurried back first train, but he died before she got there—she was very low & sick several days, but at last acct's was getting better & they think will pull through. Your Ed4 (dear young man) was in to see me a few evn'g's ago & I wish he w'd come oftener, I am here alone most of the time in wheel chair5 a little yesterday & day before too, but it is rather dull, at best—(folks don't know how rich they are in even being able to walk)—I am writing a little (to order) for publication—am shaping a little 2d annex for L of G.6 you know it has one already—this is to be the 2d & last—Col. Ingersoll's7 lect:8 is being printed in a small book in N Y, & I will send you one—sell my books to purchasers once in a while (sold one to-day)—Hope George9 gets better & stronger—write soon & tell me ab't him, & w'd like to send him something for Christmas present—And my dear Harry10 O how I wish we were near enough for me to have him with me every day—I am getting more helpless than ever in legs and ankles—only my right arm keeps good fortunately—have catarrh of bowels in addition to other troubles—am sitting here as usual in den in big cane chair with old wolf-skin back—Remembrances to you & George, & to Ed & Harry & Deb11 & Van12 & Jo13—& Jane14 too if she is there—

God bless you all
Walt Whitman

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).


1. This letter is addressed: Mrs: Susan Stafford | Ashland | (Glendale) | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Camd[en, N.J.] | DEC 2 | 5 PM | 90. On the verso of this envelope, a series of mathematical calculations have been written in blue crayon. [back]

2. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized name. Whitman probably had his brother in mind when he praised the marvels of civil engineering in poems like "Passage to India." Though their correspondence slowed in the middle of their lives, the brothers were brought together again by the deaths of Jeff's wife Martha (known as Mattie) in 1873 and his daughter Manahatta in 1886. Jeff's death in 1890 caused Walt to reminisce in his obituary, "how we loved each other—how many jovial good times we had!" For more on Thomas Jefferson Whitman, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Jessie Louisa Whitman was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson ("Jeff") and Martha ("Mattie") Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. Jessie and her sister Manahatta ("Hattie") were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]

4. Edwin Stafford (1856–1906) was one of George and Susan Stafford's sons. He was the brother of Harry Stafford, a close acquaintance of Whitman. [back]

5. 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]

6. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy" in Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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 Horace 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" (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. On October 21, 1890, at Horticultural Hall in Philadelphia, Robert Ingersoll delivered a lecture in honor of Walt Whitman titled Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman. Whitman recorded in his Commonplace Book that the lecture was "a noble, (very eulogistic to WW & L of G) eloquent speech, well responded to by the audience," and the speech itself was published in New York by the Truth Seeker Company in 1890 (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). [back]

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

10. 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]

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

12. Van Doran Stafford (1864–1914) was one of Susan and George Stafford's sons. [back]

13. Joseph Browning was married to Susan Stafford's daughter Deborah. [back]

14. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]


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