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Edward Carpenter to Walt Whitman, 18 May 1889

Dear Walt—

I now send you on with loving remembrances & good wishes our little contribution to the record of your birthday—a draft for $19495 (£ 40) from Bessie & Isabella Ford,1 William, Ethel & Arthur Thompson2 & myself. I hope it will reach you safely—you might send a line in reply. The draft is payable at the Tradesman's National Bank, Phila.

Glad that you notch another birthday among us—tho' I fear the time is often wearisome to you. The spring comes again with the cuckoo & the corncrake calling all day long, & the grass growing thick about our feet already (very early this year) and the trees all in leaf—the old vigor somewhere down, the perennial source which even in extreme age I guess people sometimes feel within them. I trust you have still good friends near you, and do not feel cut off from those that are remote. Ernest Rhys3 has just sent me some lines or verses of greeting to you—but perhaps he will send them on himself. I heard from Bucke4 a fortnight ago telling me he had been with you. I have just been weeding strawberries & come in to write you these few lines.

All goes well with me. I am brown, & hardy—& tho' I live mostly alone I have more friends almost than a man ought to have. Some kind of promise keeps floating to us always, luring us on. With much love to you, dear Walt,

as always Edw Carpenter


May 28

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).


  • 1. 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]
  • 2. As yet we have no information on William, Ethel, and Arthur Thompson. [back]
  • 3. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. 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]
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