|The Edward Carpenter Archive|
by Simon Dawson
Complete Edition in Four Parts
With a Foreward by Gilbert Beith
E. M. Forster said, in August 1944, on the occasion of the centenary of Carpenter's birth,
"Edward Carpenter is rather forgotten to-day, partly because he was a pioneer whose work has passed into our heritage. He was a poet and a prose writer, and a reformer and a mystic and socialist and a manual worker who preferred the working classes to his own. He won't be easy to sum up."
Edward Carpenter was born at Brighton in 1844 and died at Guildford in 1929. The Theme of his Towards Democracy can perhaps best be described as the immortality of life; the immortality of love; the insignificance of death, except as a natural partner to that great,trinity. The first instalment of the book was published in 1883. Its birth pangs are vividly set forth by Carpenter in his autobiography My Days and Dreams, where he describes it as
"the start-point and kernel of all my later work, the centre from which the other books have radiated."
In spite of the earlier editions being generally reviled by the Press, and the fact that only 700 copies were sold in seven years, Carpenter was quite undaunted and added to the book from time to time, but it was not until 1902 that the complete edition appeared. By that time the book had established itself and had ceased to demand Press appreciations favourable or otherwise. Translations into many foreign languages, including Japanese, followed in due course and sales increased for many years and continued steadily until 1944 when, owing to war-time restrictions on paper, the book went temporarily out of print. Now, after an interval of over four years, its publishers have been able to launch it once more and have requested me, as one of Edward Carpenter's literary executors, to write this foreword to the new edition.
The title of the book may be misleading to some and perhaps requires explanation. To Carpenter the word "democracy" meant a thing of the heart rather than a political creed, whereas the democracy that has established itself is an organised one and too much intent on organisation. Unless it manages to make itself lovable, it will dry up from within and fail. No one realised this more than Carpenter himself. It is very unlikely that he would have regarded the present position of the Labour Party as a fulfilment of his ideals. He never had much use for organisations or for committees or for dialectic. His heart was always stronger than his head, but he must not therefore be dismissed as a sentimentalist, which hard-headed sociologists are inclined to do.
The re-issue of this book will do much to bring Carpenter's message within reach of a new and rising generation.