A Letter from Alfred Carpenter - 1916
The Edward Carpenter Archive
by Simon Dawson

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A letter to Edward Carpenter from his younger brother Alfred - written in 1916 and containing Alfred's thoughts and comments after reading My Days and Dreams. The letter was found inside a copy of My Days and Dreams which appears to have been owned by Gilbert Beith.

The letter is not easy to decipher - lines of ***** indicate illegible words, and words in italic are where I am slightly uncertain about the exact reading.

Euston Villa, Henfield, Sussex –
July 3rd – 1916

My Dear Ted

I seem to know you a great deal better now that you have written your "Days and Dreams" - you are so sympathetic to ***** that you have not unfolded much of your own difficulties before, and I learn a great deal about you for the first time - and the book also tells me a great deal about Father that I never knew - so that it has been a great pleasure to me.

The frontispiece photo is you, I suppose, but it might almost be me! With your correct scarf & pin, & bit of hanky you show your Brighton origin. The saving of the Prayer book must have come about from the “Sunday at Home” and the goody goody twaddle that we had to read for lessons -

How truly you say “Education was mainly a nipping of buds” - In the Navy the great point of the Educator was to show how much he knew & how little you knew - I was often impressed by the confidences and affection that I saw in other families, but was rather starved of at home -

Your description of your wanderings on the Downs comes home to me here for Henfield stands on a sandy knoll or ridge & we have ever the unbroken line of the Downs in sight, a most restful horizon, distant only 3 ˝ miles.

You say that you worshipped the very ground on which some of the elder boys stood - although not to the same extent, I had a longing for the presence of certain older boys when I was 15 to 16 & could not take my eyes off them - This is pretty common probably, & especially among girls - It seems to be a great lottery what companions a boy of 15 gets hold of, and masters should be very very careful to open the boys mind to the harm that may accrue from making friends of loose minded irresponsible comrades - I used to look on you as rather unforgiving, rather intellectual, & inclined to tell - I admired your activity, and never thought that you wanted affection - But of course I was a young monkey & you had to keep me in order frequently.

It is very curious that Father never contemplated the girls never learning any work although he was so anxious about their future - It shows how thick the conventional weeds had grown & choked his outlook -

You say that Mother’s father had been in the Navy - I presume it was in the Indian Navy of those days for I do not think his name has the letters R.N. after it on either the tablet or tombstone at Walthamstow. When he lived at that place I expect he had some high position in Green's Indian fleet - I did not know that father had ever worried over have nothing to do after retiring from the service & going to Brighton. It has often worried me that I could never find congenial regular work after leaving the service - You have been singularly fortunate in being able to carry your work about in a hand bag which you can open and shut as the humour takes you allowing you thus to vary your occupation between the pen and the spade - India was the only appointment that was really perfect as there were 7 months afloat & 5 months ashore every year & in the latter one could have one’s family - But luck went against me there, & the heat of India fried my brains.

I haven’t got my family tree here but you make both grandfathers die before 1847 whereas I am nearly sure one of them had the pleasure of seeing me - It had slipped my memory that father turned round and vilified Gladstone –

It was quite in father's mind shortly before he took permanently to bed, how interesting it would be to be gradually frozen into a block of ice after the faculties had been ******, & then, after 100 years, thawed & shown how science and towns had advanced - I quite expected when he died that there would be some provision in the will for so preserving him! Yesterday I was in Shermanbury Church at Service, in the same old wooden pews, & I could mentally see him standing up in the front pew while I a boy of 10 was picking at the wood of the pew boarding – I like the picture you draw of the evening in the drawing room at 45 B. square.

I did not know of mother’s sister and her banishment from the family – That sense of being no longer of any use in the World must come to all of us at times as we gradually cease our activities – It comes to me often, & then something turns up and I find I am wanted – I did not know that father realised in that last year of his life how much mother had been the mainspring of the family. We often fail to realise all we owe to mothers - There are hundreds of good women barely able to sustain themselves in their old age, who in their prime helped many a lass and lad to find themselves – The lads and lasses grew up and become prosperous & never know that their guardian angels are in want, nor do they enquire –

I am so glad that you have had a dig at the University general teaching - It has been a red rag to me for years - It seems to teach men to argue & to push their way through the world by dialectics - When a University man argues with me and convinces me I am wrong; as soon as I leave him I know I was right all the time -

The period 1871 - 76 was a momentous one to you evidently! - I was then away for 5 ˝ years on end & when I returned I made visits & you were moving about a good deal - I think that you undersell Narcissus - There are several poems therein that give one to think a good deal - It came out while I was away.

I cannot remember you as you appear in that photo of 1875 but it appears to be a good one - It is remarkable how again & again you were thrown off the track & could not reach the desire that under ran all your thoughts - You would have found it even more difficult if you had married, for there would have been two ideals to reach - There is a divinity that shapes our ends rough hew them as we may. Again & again one has to just give up the project of one’s heart - We came here to work on the land but as soon as the casual work was over we were quite unable to get work, so I go round to our well to do friends gardens and cut their lawns or pick their fruit or weed -

All the haymaking is by machinery - if we could live on a farm there might be work to hand but there is none for outsiders -

When you suffered so much from your eyes I must have been in China. It must have been all that lantern work - I often wonder how lecturers can stand right in the glare of the light and not suffer -

You refer a great deal to “the denial and systematic ignoring of the obvious facts of the heart and self” - and there is no doubt that it is altogether wrong that women should never have a chance at motherhood - But I fancy the real suffering comes about from the want of useful & stimulating employment, for you meet fine women now in the thick of movements who won’t look at a man - In what way do they satisfy their needs which was not available to the young ladies of 1860? Of course “Form” and Convention are all to blame - They permeate all classes & all races & are of some use directly two or three are gathered together, but one must not let them get the mastery.

Religious bigotry has done much to keep them alive and to keep people apart.

Here, we find ourselves among a very kind & friendly people, all classes being pleasant together - But then they have a good market near in Brighton & there is no poverty visible – The old country style of life is a happy one, the children all bright & rosy, a pleasant word between all passers by, contented looks, & mother earth earth doing her best -

It is interesting to learn that Kate & Lina were here on the Violet-farm working hard - Miss Allen is still going strong & has many happy pupils - many of them are worshippers of yours & hailed my arrival (before they met me!) with joy - Their carnatioons are certainly a wonder & they seem to have a great demand for them notwithstanding the War.

It is new to me that you worked in a a joiners shop from 6.30 to 8.30 at Brighton for 2 months - That was good - It was terribly hard on you that you had to come back in 1882 & spend all that four or five months chasing up money affairs and selling the house -

This letter is horribly disjointed as we get so many interruptions - Since the last paragraph I have done 4 days haymaking & am still in demand.

The machinery is limited and the smaller holders are glad of help. Little Joan Plowright stayed 18 days with us & went back feeling very strong & I am sending her wages for 2 days weeding which will please her - she is a dancer but she is also a pianist with a good deal of feeling. The Kropotkins have come here to be near us & they will stay for 3 weeks - He is wonderfully active minded, & she is very sympathetic - I shall lend them your book for a week of so.

What you say about Charles Goring is good and also all that about Trelawny - We walked to "Wiston", the present home of the Gorings, from Steyning one day & the butler showed us the outside of the house & the Church. It is a fine old house - I remember that you used to go to Steyning & Bramber on excursions.

The notices of your new book in the Times and Daily Chronicle must be very amusing to you (& very satisfactory) compared with the criticisms of the Press over your first publications - At the H. L. meeting in town the other day I. F. Green referred to the change of view of the Press on your writings - How nearly you came to an untimely end is well told when you describe how Thoreaus's Walden came into your hands just as you were prepared with all your equipment to enter the commercial market - If it had reached you two years sooner you might have cut yourself away from all your fellows & become a sort of Fakir with long hair and unwashen skin, a terrible example of too much thinking.

I rejoice to see from the list of translations at the end of your book that your writings appeal to all sections of the World -

I have written to ****** to ask if she will take me in the 17th & 18th when we shall be on our way to
Thorneythwaite farm
to which place we go on 19th - for a fortnight, but we shall remain up that way for two months probably & then return to Henfield - Will you arrange something about meeting on the 17th (evening) or 18th - I want to see Edith's mother, & Alice & Sophy; The two last were shivering last Wednesday over a fire although it was quite warm outside -

If ******** cannot take me I may go to No 8 -

With much love

Yours affectionately


I have got the Croydon Library to get in 3 of your D & Dreams

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