Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Harry Stafford, 21 November 1888

Date: November 21, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04012

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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Nov: 21 pm '88

Dear Hank

Yours of 20th rec'd this morning & is quite a surprise to me, & a little not understandable1—But you will tell me plainer when you come up & see me Saturday—Don't do any thing too hastily, & from great excitement—I shall look for you Saturday—If any thing prevents your coming, write me & write fully.

I am much the same—rather easier if any thing the past two weeks—but the bad pall-weight & inertia, (like a sluggish, sleepy, tired, great weight, as of heavy irons on me, body & spirit) seem to be on me all the time—& appear destined for life. Still keep the sick chair & sick room—(now going into the sixth month)—The big book 2, (my whole works in one Vol.) will be bound now in a week or ten days—I suppose Eva3 bro't you the little Nov: Boughs4—Things go on comfortably with me—Eat & sleep fairly—spirits good yet—Sunny cold weather here—Herbert5 comes quite often—Two visitors ladies strangers just here to see me—love to you, dear boy, & to Eva and Dora6

Walt Whitman

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).


1. Unfortunately Stafford's letter is not known. [back]

2. Whitman is referring to his Complete Poems & Prose, which would be published in December of the same year. [back]

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

4. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," 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. Dora Stafford was the first child of Harry and Eva Stafford. [back]


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