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Walt Whitman to Harry Stafford, 2 January 1884

Dear Son & Comrade

I have got word from you once or twice1—& glad to hear that you keep well & in good spirits—that's more than half the battle—& I'm sure its the best half too—I got a letter from Dr B[ucke] to-day—he mentions you in it, & speaks very friendlily indeed of you—I also rec'd a letter from your mother to-day, which I will enclose, as every thing from home is welcome, (even if she has written already to you, as is very likely)—I have written to your mother this evening—

I jog along very much in the old way—am pretty well, so far this winter—(they say I am fatter & more red-faced than ever)—I spent my Christmas over in Germantown at Mr and Mrs Williams's,2 new friends, very nice, & a big family of children—was there four days—had a jolly time—a sleigh ride, or two—fine traveling, but too cold to enjoy it—Ruth and Burt3 were up here to see me last week—Ruth is going to make a fine looking woman, & good-sized, like her mother (Shape first, face afterward, was the saying of a old sport I used to know)—I met Ed Stafford (John's son)4 yesterday at the ferry—he asked about you—the boys are all curious to know about you—all wish you luck, sincerely—Well good bye for the present, my darling boy—Keep a good heart—we will be together yet & have good times yet—(I shall break up from here in the Spring & leave Camden—I don't know where)5

Walt Whitman

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 with Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke in London, Ontario (see the letter from Whitman to Harry Stafford of December 8, 1883). [back]
  • 2. See the letter from Whitman to John H. Johnston of December 29, 1883. [back]
  • 3. Ruth was Harry's sister. [back]
  • 4. John Stafford (1825–1900), a cousin of Mr. Stafford, had a son named Edmund (1860–1939). [back]
  • 5. Since Whitman's brother George was shortly to move to Burlington, N.J., Whitman had to make new living arrangements. According to William D. O'Connor's letter to Whitman on February 22, the poet evidently discussed with Burroughs the possibility of going to Esopus. [back]
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