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Walt Whitman to Harry Stafford, 10 February 1884

Dear Harry

At the request of your mother & from what you wrote some time ago I bundled up all the old letters I could find, & Edward Stafford2 stopt here & took them to her—this is over a week ago, (Ed still comes up here to school in Phila. to learn bookkeeping)—I believe your folks are all as usual—but I suppose you have heard from there, latest particulars. I am jogging along pretty much the same as ever—was to the theatre last week, & enjoyed it, "Francesca da Rimini"—lots of love-making & hugging in the play, done first rate—I quite fell in love with the lady actress (Mary Wainwright)3—the actors spied me in front, & sent around to ask me to come behind the scenes, which I did at the end of the play, & was made much of, especially by Barrett the star—was invited to go with him to the Continental to supper—which I declined4

I am doing a little in writing—have a little poem in Harpers for March, forthcoming, which I will send you5—(I sent you the Indian piece,6 I believe)—When you get ready to go on further, or to any Western city, or anywhere, I will furnish you with a general letter of recommendation, if you wish it—may serve to break the ice, possibly, somewhere. I suppose you get the Camden & other papers I send—

For over a month now we have had rough winter weather here—lately rain & fog, most a week—but to-day is bright & fine—I am sitting up in the 3d story room, Stevens street, in the afternoon sun writing this—Glad you write to me in such good spirits, & are well—they two are every thing—Keep on—explore the big western cities, Chicago, Cincinnati, St Louis—Denver—even to California—it will do you good to see the actual world, & men & affairs—God bless you, dear boy—


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 year is confirmed by the notes below. February 10 fell on Sunday in 1884. Stafford was still in Canada with Richard Maurice Bucke (see the letter from Whitman to Harry Stafford of December 8, 1883). On February 10 he informed the poet that he was suffering from an "abcess in my neck," and asked for a letter of introduction to any one Whitman knew in Detroit: "Don't get the blues worth a dam and don't aspect to." See the letter from Whitman to George and Susan Stafford of March 13, 1884. [back]
  • 2. Possibly Edward L. Stafford, son of Richard C. Stafford, or perhaps Whitman meant Edmund D. Stafford (see the letter from Whitman to Harry Stafford of January 2, 1884). [back]
  • 3. Marie (not Mary) Wainwright. [back]
  • 4. Whitman noted this performance in his Commonplace Book on January 30: "B[arrett] sent for me behind the stage & I went at the close of the play & had a short interview with him in his dressing room. Acting good, especially Francesca's and her lover's" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Lawrence Barrett (1838–1891), an American actor, was noted for his Shakespearean roles. [back]
  • 5. "With Husky-Haughty Lips, O Sea." [back]
  • 6. "An Indian Bureau Reminiscence." [back]
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