Skip to main content

Harry Stafford to Walt Whitman, [1 May 1877]

 loc_vm.00099.jpg Dear Friend1

You know how I left you at the station to-day. I have thought of it and cannot get it off my mind, so I have come up to ask your forgiveness. I know how I have served you on many occasions before. I know that it is my falt​ and not yours. Can you forgive me and take me back and love me the same I will try by the grace of God to do better. I cannot give you up, and it makes me feel so bad to think how we have spent the last day or two; and all for my temper. I will have to controol it or it will send me to the states prison or some other bad place. Cant you take me back and love me the same.

Your lovin but bad tempered Harry.  loc_vm.00100.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. The date of this letter is based on Edwin Haviland Miller's introduction to volume three of The Correspondence, in which Miller also discusses the occasionally troubled relationship between Whitman and Stafford (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1964], 3:1–9). The letter appears on the back of a letter from W.A.B. James to Whitman of March 27, 1877. [back]
Back to top