Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Susan and George Stafford, 3 January 1890

Date: January 3, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07744

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:17. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

Jan: 3 '901

Dear friends Susan and George
& Dear friends and all—

Here I linger along like a dead wither'd tree yet ("why cumbereth it the ground?")2—not much different but steadily declining—yet spirits middling fair—& appetite & sleep fair—wh' is all something to be thankful for. If I were able how I sh'd like to come down there & be with you all—I often think ab't you all & ab't old times over at the Creek—Debby was here yesterday, & she & the little girl were welcome & cheer'd me up—what a sweet little rose bush she is!—(She reminds me in her looks of Jo,3 & then of her grandfather Geo:)—Susan, thank you for the nice chicken—I enjoy'd the eating of it well—I am sitting here in my den alone as usual—the sun is shining finely & I shall probably get out in my wheel chair4 for an hour. Love to Harry5 and Ed6 and all—& a happy year 1890 & God's blessing to all of you—

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. This letter is addressed: Mrs: Susan Stafford | Kirkwood | Glendale | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Camden (?) | Jan 3 | 5(?)PM | 90. [back]

2. Whitman is quoting from the Bible; he is referring to Luke 13:7. [back]

3. Whitman is referring to Mrs. Stafford's daughter Deborah Stafford Browning, her granddaughter Susan Browning, and her son-in-law Joseph Browning (Deborah's husband). [back]

4. 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]

5. 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]

6. Edwin Stafford (1856–1906) was the brother of Harry Stafford, a close acquaintance of Whitman. [back]


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