Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to George and Susan Stafford, 28 May 1890

Date: May 28, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04262

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: Ian Faith, Ryan Furlong, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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May 28 1890

Dear friends all

Here I hold out yet—the grip swoops down on me yet from time to time like a hawk—Am sort of under it to–day, but might be worse. Herbert1 is off there at Centreport Long Island, in his nice old farm–house—Dr Bucke2 is still here (he puts up at "the Aldine" Cape May city3 but is just now in Washington)—My brother Eddy4 is still at Blackwood5—we think he is well used & fed & cared for there very well (we pay 41 ½ a quarter)—I go out in wheel chair6 or cab for an hour or two often & get along—I often think of Harry7—give the enclosed8 to him or Eva9

Love to you all.
Walt Whitman

George (1827–1892) and Susan Stafford (1833–1910) were the parents of Harry Stafford, a young man whom Whitman befriended in 1876 in Camden. They 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, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 685.


1. 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]

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. Dr. Bucke had decided to get some "fresh sea air" and so spent some time on the southern New Jersey shore at the Aldine Cottage on Cape May (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, April 9, 1890), after which he came to Philadelphia and Camden and stayed to attend the poet's seventy-first birthday dinner. [back]

4. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death in 1873. During his mother's final illness, George Whitman and his wife Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman took over Eddy's care, with financial support from Walt Whitman. In 1888, Eddy was moved to an asylum at Blackwood, New Jersey. For more information on Edward, 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]

5. In 1888, Whitman had put his brother Eddy in the Camden County Insane Asylum in Blackwood, New Jersey, about ten miles from Camden. It was built in 1878 and housed around 90 patients. [back]

6. 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]

7. 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]

8. Whitman enclosed a letter to Harry and Eva Stafford also dated May 28, 1890[back]

9. Eva M. Westcott (1857–1939) was born in Michigan and later became a teacher in New Jersey. She married Harry Lamb Stafford, a close acquantaince of Whitman, on June 25, 1883. The couple had three children. [back]


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