Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to George and Susan Stafford, 7 December 1890

Date: December 7, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04304

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: Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, Marie Ernster, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
Sunday Evn'g
Dec: 7 '90

Dear friends all

Y'r letter Susan rec'd1 & welcomed, & of course I was glad to hear f'm you all but hoped that George had fully or most fully recovered—but it is slow & tedious work & I hope & trust for the best. I want to come down & see him & I hope to yet.—Still keeps pretty dull & poorly with me going down slowly but surely all the time—pretty serious catarrh (probably) in the head & bowels too—& bladder malady—havn't been out the past week—am comfortable here wood fire—cloudy out & looks & feels like snow—have had a couple of visitors2 to–day, one f'm the college near Boston—My brother George3 return'd f'm St Louis & was here a couple of hours—my neice Jessie4 remains at present in St L—It was all a dark & rather sudden blow5—Susan I enclose two dollars for Harry's6 little ones, give it to Eva7 for them8—Maybe Harry will be here in a day or two I hope he will—That bad accident here on the foolish misplacing of the RR switch—we knew the poor conductor Leap,9 kill'd (leaves 6 children poor enough)—Love to you all—Ed10 stop here often as you can—you too Susan—George keep a good heart—my love to you Harry dear—

God bless you all
Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
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.

Notes:

1. Whitman is referring to Susan Stafford's letter of December 3, 1890[back]

2. As yet we have no information about these visitors. [back]

3. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). As a Civil War correspondent, Walt wrote warmly about George's service, such as in "Our Brooklyn Boys in the War" (January 5, 1863); "A Brooklyn Soldier, and a Noble One" (January 19, 1865); "Return of a Brooklyn Veteran" (March 12, 1865); and "Our Veterans Mustering Out" (August 5, 1865). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with partner Mr. Smith and later a mason named French. George also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. Walt and George lived together for several years in Camden, but when Walt decided not to move with George and his wife Louisa in 1884, a rift occurred that was ultimately not mended before Walt's 1892 death. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957) was the second and youngest daughter of Whitman's brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890) and Jeff's wife Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873). [back]

5. Whitman is referring to the recent death of his favorite brother Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff.” [back]

6. 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]

7. 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. [back]

8. By 1890, Harry Stafford (1858–1918) and his wife Eva Westcott Stafford (1856–1906) were the parents of two children: Dora Virginia Stafford (1886–1928) and George Westcott Stafford (1890–1984). [back]

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

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


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