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Walt Whitman to Edward Carpenter, 28 May 1889

Thanks, dear friend, for your love & remembrance & faith & liberality—And thanks with same to Bessie & Isabella Ford2 & William & Ethel & Arthur Thompson3—(The letter—somehow one of the best I ever rec'd—goes to my heart—of May 18 with the draft 194:95 reaches me safely)4

I am here yet, much the same, to say it summarily, fairly jolly—go out now sometimes in a wheel chair,5 exceptionally for an hour or two to the river shore when I feel like it—have a good strong young Canadian (Ed Wilkins6) for my helper & nurse—have just had what I call my currying for the mid-day—& am probably getting along better than you all might suppose—fortunately my right & left arms are left me in good strength & volition, (in the terrible wreck & almost helplessness of the rest of the body)—There is somewhat against my wish & advice to be a sort of public & speechifying dinner &c. in compliment to my finishing my 70th year, here in Camden, towards even'g May 31—I will send you any acc't may be7

I have lately seen Herbert Gilchrist8—he is well & flourishing—The Staffords9 are well & much the same—I have not sent your & the Misses Fords' big books (Complete Works)10 yet—Shall probably send in a box to Mrs: Costelloe,11 40 Grosvenor Road, the Embankment, London, but I shall send you word when—You & the Fords & the rest have help'd me more than you know—

Love— 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: Edw'd Carpenter | Millthorpe | near Chesterfield | England. It is postmarked: Camden (?) | May 28 | 8 PM | 89. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. As yet we have no information on William, Ethel, and Arthur Thompson. [back]
  • 4. Carpenter sent the birthday gift of $194.95 (£40) on May 18, 1889 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 2, 1889). On Carpenter's letter Whitman wrote: "Seems to me one of the leading best missives I ever had—goes to the heart." Traubel included the letter in Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1889), 54. [back]
  • 5. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889. [back]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. There is no extant letter from Whitman to Carpenter reporting the proceedings of the 70th birthday dinner. For similar letters regarding the dinner, see the poet's June 4, 1889 letter to William Sloane Kennedy and his June 4–5, 1889 letter to Richard Maurice Bucke. See also Whitman's June 2, 1889 letter to Traubel, regarding the published volume of birthday speeches Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1889). [back]
  • 8. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 9. "The Staffords" refers to the family of Harry Lamb Stafford (1858–1918), a young man who Whitman befriended in 1876 in Camden. Harry's parents, George (1827–1892) and Susan Stafford (1833–1910), were tenant farmers at White Horse Farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey, where Whitman visited them on several occasions. In the 1880s, the Staffords sold the farm and moved to nearby Glendale. For more on Whitman and the Staffords, see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." The volume 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, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, 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]
  • 11. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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