Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Edward Carpenter to Walt Whitman, 13 May 1878

Date: May 13, 1878

Whitman Archive ID: uva.00393

Source: Papers of Walt Whitman (MSS 3829), Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, Albert H. Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia. 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: Alicia Bones, Grace Thomas, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein

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13. May 78.

Dear Walt,

I am sorry to hear of your being kept in with rheumatism.1 I am afraid you have been suffering a good deal. And just at this spring time it is such a pleasure to be out and about. I hope by the time this reaches you you may be well again. You will miss the Gilchrists a good deal. I had a letter from Grace2 about a fortnight ago telling me of their move. She seems to be wanting to get back to England. Herbert3 I suppose is travelling about a bit. I feel sorry that the household in North 22 street is broken up—I so often look back to those few days I spent there. I wonder whether we shall all meet again in England. Is there still a chance of your coming?

My winter's work of lecturing is over now; I have had a very pleasant time of it—though living a rather solitary life. I was lecturing in 3 towns—York, Sheffield and Chesterfield. I made the last my headquarters, and then went once a week to York, twice to Sheffield and gave a lecture every week in Chesterfield. The people write answers to the questions in the lecture and then send up papers which I look over & return to them. It is interesting work because one has all sorts of people—men & women young and old of all conditions of life—except the poorest. And one gets to know a good many of them. We had a jolly excursion the other day into the country near Sheffield—a sort of geological open air science ramble. About 70 people came old & young, respectables & non respectables, and it was very friendly & pleasant.

I am staying here now with my friend Cotterill4 who has just returned from African explorations. And in a few days I am going home to Brighton. I met a brother of Edward Dowden's5 here a day or two ago—a parson—a pleasant sort of fellow—Irish. Thank Harry Stafford6 for me please for his letter. If he gets a photograph of himself done any time, I should like one.

With love dear friend
Edward Carpenter


1. 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). [back]

2. Grace Gilchrist Frend (1859–1947) was one of Anne Gilchrist's four children and Herbert's sister. She became a contralto. She was the author of "Walt Whitman as I Remember Him" (Bookman 72 [July 1927], 203–205). [back]

3. 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]

4. Henry B. Cotterill was a schoolfellow of Edward Carpenter at Brighton College. After lecturing in pedagogy at Harrow School, he went on an exploration in Africa, around Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania. (Carpenter recalls this in his My Days and Dreams, Being Autobiographical Notes [London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1916], 232–233). Cotterill was the author of various books about Ancient Greece, Medieval Italy, and Italian literature. He also carried out a translation of the complete Odyssey of Homer into English hexameters. [back]

5. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors. . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888, Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888, 299). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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]


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