Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Edward Carpenter, 5 June 1891

Date: June 5, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00482

Source: T. E. Hanley Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:207–208. 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, Ryan Furlong, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden New Jersey—U S America1
June 5 '91

Thanks, dear friend—& thanks, friends Bessie & Isabella Ford,2 R D Roberts of Cambridge,3 & William,4 Arthur5 & Ethel Thompson,6 for the welcome & noble birthday gift wh' has safely reach'd me (40 pounds) & is hereby receipted.7

I still hold the fort, (after a fashion)—send you my latest & doubtless concluding chirps of L of G. by this mail—also sent you lame report of late birth-day spree8—I sit up most of the time—but am a fearful wreck f'm grippe, gastric & bladder malady &c &c—my vocalization & right arm power & (sort o') ratiocination left middling fair—Dr Bucke9 has been here—has gone home to Canada—H Stafford10 is living down as farmer (address Ashland, Camden County, New Jersey) is well—has been quite ill—has two children11—Herbert Gilchrist12 at Centreport, Suffolk Co: N Y: well—am sitting here comfortable as I write—


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: Camden, N.J. | Jun 5 | 3 PM | 91. [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. The Ford sisters also helped form the Leeds Women's Suffrage Society. In 1875, Isabella Ford met Carpenter, who introduced her to socialism; they joined The Fabian Society in 1883. [back]

3. Little is known about R. D. Roberts. According to Carpenter's letter to Whitman of May 17, 1886, Roberts had a master's degree from Cambridge. [back]

4. Joseph William Thompson was a lawyer from London and member of the Middle Temple, one of the four Inns of Court of the city. He was called to the bar in 1879. Thompson was the 5th son of Charles Thompson of Preswylfa near Cardiff, a member of the Society of Friends (Joseph Foster, Men-at-the-bar: A Biographical Hand-list of the Members of the Various Inns [London and Avlesbury: Hazell, Watson and Viney, Limited, 1885], 464). [back]

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

6. Little is known about Ethel Thompson (ca. 1859), who was the "very dear cousin" of Joseph William Thompson. See the letter from Joseph W. Thompson to Whitman of January 20, 1880[back]

7. Carpenter wrote on May 20, 1891 after his return to England from Ceylon and India; in addition to the monetary gift he enclosed "a bit of sweetbriar wh' grows by the door of this little house." [back]

8. Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday was celebrated with friends at his home on Mickle Street. He described the celebration in a letter to Dr. John Johnston, of Bolton, England, dated June 1, 1891: "We had our birth anniversary spree last evn'g—ab't 40 people, choice friends mostly—12 or so women—[Alfred, Lord] Tennyson sent a short and sweet letter over his own sign manual . . . lots of bits of speeches, with gems in them—we had a capital good supper." [back]

9. 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]

10. 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]

11. By 1891, 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]

12. 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]


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