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Harry Stafford to Walt Whitman, 10 February 1884

 loc_jc.00537_large.jpg Dr​ Old Friend:

Am quite well with the exception of the abcess on my neck, it has come again. Dr. B—1 lanced it few days ago but it dont appear to get much better. Recieved the papers and am glad to get them for it is the only way I can get posted. Most of my friends appear to have forgotten me or think me of too little importance to drop a line. Will leave here the first of next month and start for Detroit where I will put in a month or so if I can find bread and butter. Please send me a letter of introduction to someone there if you know any body it will make it much better for me and I will not feel entirely alone. I think perhaps Dr. B can give me a letter to some of his friends there as he is going to give a lecture there Wednesday evening. Don't get the blues worth a dam and dont expect to. Will close for the present.

With lots of love, I remain as Ever your true and devoted son Harry2  loc_jc.00538_large.jpg

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).


  • 1. Harry was at the time staying with Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902), a Canadian physician and psychiatrist. Bucke grew close to Whitman after reading (and later memorizing) Leaves of Grass in 1867 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." [back]
  • 2. Whitman forwarded this letter to George and Susan Stafford on February 14, 1884, including a note of his own on the back. [back]
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