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Walt Whitman to Harry Stafford, 13 January [1884]

I am going out to a small dinner party of friends,1 & am sitting here in my 3d story room waiting for half an hour—

—I have not heard from your folks directly—but a man at the ferry, (a relation of Joe Brownings) told me that "Debbie had had a baby, & that it was buried last Sunday."2 I asked him how Debbie was getting along since, & he said he believed pretty well—but I suppose you have heard more fully & exactly from home—Nothing else to write about specially—we have had over three weeks of severe winter weather, storms &c—many wrecks on the coast—I am glad you keep well & in good spirits—pray God it may continue so, & believe it will—Good bye for this time, dear Hank—


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. Morley C. Roberts (1857–1942) was a well-travelled English novelist who had visited, among other places, Australia and South Africa and incorporated elements from his trips into his fiction. [back]
  • 2. While there is no record of Whitman responding to Roberts, he did call the letter "fragrant and beautiful" when discussing it with Horace Traubel (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, January 5, 1889). [back]
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