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Walt Whitman to Edward Carpenter, 11 January 1889

Dear Edw'd Carpenter,

Y'rs came yesterday with the draft $174.37—best & heart-felt thanks—it will help me deeply—You speak of the original draft sent me in May last—no such draft has been rec'd or seen or heard of by me, & must have been either lost or miscarried or something else—So I shall use this at once2

I am still cribb'd up in the sick room, now over seven months, but easier & freer of late—as I believe I told you in a letter three weeks ago3—am very weak & unable to get across the room without assistance—but have a good strong nurse4—& good medical supervision—sit up most of the days.

I am wanting to envelope up & send some copies by Oceanic Express of my "Complete Works," a big 900 page Vol.5 (one copy for you), all directed to my friend R. Pearsall Smith,6 44 Grosvenor Road, the Embankment, London—will send you word when I do so—also wish you to give me address of Misses Ford7 (give them my love) to whom I send a copy in same package—As I finish I am comfortable—sitting in my big chair here by the oak fire—

Walt Whitman

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. This letter is addressed: Edward Carpenter | Millthorpe | near Chesterfield | England. It is postmarked: (?) | Jan (?) | 8 PM | 89. [back]
  • 2. Whitman explained the error at length (with many interpolations) in The Commonplace-Book: "A very bad (never so bad before) lapse of my own memory. Edw'd Carpenter sent me a bank draft $174:37, last part of May, '88, wh' by Lou or Mrs: D[avis] I deposited (I was very ill at the time bedfast) in Bank July 2. Then in Jan: '89, not hearing of the first draft & fearing it lost, E C sent me the same draft in duplicate, & I forgetting all ab't the first (I had not rec'd it & supposing it lost) deposited it & was credited in Bank. Of course on presenting it for payment (to J M Shoemaker & Co. bankers) they spoke of the paid original draft, & I gave the Camden bank my cheque $174:37" (The Commonplace-Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). See Whitman's January 16, 1889, letter to Carpenter, and Carpenter's reply on January 27, 1889. See also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, February 17, 1889. [back]
  • 3. See Whitman's letter to Carpenter of December 6, 1888. [back]
  • 4. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]
  • 5. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," was published by the poet himself—in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 6. Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898) was a Quaker who became an evangelical minister associated with the "Holiness movement." He was also a writer and businessman. Whitman often stayed at his Philadelphia home, where the poet became friendly with the Smith children—Mary, Logan, and Alys. For more information about Smith, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. 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 Whitman. [back]
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