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Walt Whitman to Edward Carpenter, 3 May 1887

Yours of Ap: 20 just rec'd & welcomed.2 Write oftener—The Staffords3 & I remember you with greatest affection & esteem—I also with deepest gratitude—I am still here in the same little old house—of course gradually sinking & dissolving—Harry S[tafford]4 had a surgical operation on his throat—it seems to have been properly done, & the cut is healing—He is at Marlton, New Jersey, married, has a child—I send you some papers—always best 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: Edward Carpenter | Commonwealth Café | Scotland Street | Sheffield England. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | May 3 | 12 M | 87. [back]
  • 2. Carpenter's letter of April 20 had the awe-stricken and confessional tone characteristic of Whitman's youthful admirers: "Dear old Walt—I was right glad to get your card and find you hadn't forgotten me; and that you still keep going along, fairly cheerful." Carpenter went on to relate: "I have had a baddish time the last few days, and feel tired out & sick. A very dear friend of mine—we have been companions day & night for many months now—has taken to girl whom I can't say I much care for. . . . Just now I feel as if I had lost him, and am rather dumpy—tho' I don't know that it will be altogether bad in the end." Whitman received £25 from Carpenter on May 23 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
  • 3. Whitman often visited the family at their farm at Timber Creek in Laurel Springs, New Jersey; in the 1880s, the Staffords sold the farm and moved to nearby Glendale. [back]
  • 4. 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). [back]
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