Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Edward Carpenter, 26 May 1890

Date: May 26, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00480

Source: Harry Ransom Center University of Texas Austin. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:50. 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




Camden New Jersey U S America1
May 26 1890

Dear friend

Y'r letter with the $203 65/100 f'm y'rself, the Misses Ford,2 Wm Thompson3 & Mr & Mrs Roberts4 safely rec'd to-day5—best thanks to all—& love too—& the special prayer that Bessie F's recovery may be good & firm & permanent—

I am jogging along here undoubtedly on the downhill decline, but more comfortably than you might suppose—have had a pretty good week, the past—have been out an hour or two even three or four, every day—a friend sends a hansom & I drive out—or at other times in my stout wheel chair6—Not so well to-day—cannot get out—have either caught fresh cold, or it is a whack of this infernal grip wh' has settled on me of late months—Dr Bucke7 is here temporarily8—Harry Stafford9 has been ill, but was over it at last acc'ts—he has given up telegraphing & RRing—Best love to you all—


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature." For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Edward Carpenter | Millthorpe | near Chesterfield | England. It is postmarked: Philadelphia, Pa. | May 26 | 8 PM | Paid. [back]

2. Isabella Ford (1855–1924) was an English feminist, socialist, and writer. Elizabeth (Bessie) Ford was her sister. Both were introduced to Whitman's writings by Edward Carpenter and they quickly became admirers of the aged poet. [back]

3. William J. "Billy" Thompson (1848–1911), known as "The Duke of Gloucester" and "The Statesman," was a friend of Whitman's who operated a hotel, race track, and amusement park on the beach overlooking the Delaware River at Gloucester, New Jersey. His shad and champagne dinners for Whitman were something of a tradition. See William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (London: Alexander Gardner, 1896), 15–16. [back]

4. Robert Davies Roberts (1851–1911) was a Welsh academic and pioneer in adult education. [back]

5. See Carpenter's letter to Whitman of May 17, 1890[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. 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]

8. Bucke was visiting for Whitman's 71st birthday celebration that included a lecture by the famous orator and agnostic Robert Ingersoll (1833–1899) in Philadelphia. [back]

9. Walt 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. In 1884, 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]


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