Edward Carpenter





Edward Carpenter:In Appreciation


"Edward Carpenter: In Appreciation"

Following Edward Carpenter's death in 1929, a memorial collection of twenty nine essays by friends and colleagues, entitled ‘Edward Carpenter In Appreciation', was published in 1931. To mark the 80th anniversary of Carpenter's death, selections from some of these essays are reproduced here. These excerpts, chosen for their diversity and for what they reveal of friendship and of Carpenter's concluding years at Guildford, have been edited to facilitate the flow of text.

Henry W. Nevinson (The campaigning journalist and war correspondent, known as ‘the King of Correspondence'):

'That humorous belief in the inward and spiritual grace somewhere to be found in most people, certainly in most working people, was to myself the most attractive evidence of his rich and generous nature. With all natural things in their due order of succession he was at peace-with sky, seas, with earth and hills, with worms and butterflies, hares and dogs, savages and Hindu dreamers, with English workers in country and town. It was only against the unnatural types of mankind-the stuffy professors, the frequenters of drawing-rooms, the "public benefactors", the acquisitive plunderers - that he declared what the old Greeks called a war without herald. And yet when it came to their human personalities, I think he would often have gone to them as herald himself.

I know there are many other sides of the man upon which other friends may dwell. But this was the side I chose as most attractive and comprehensible to myself.  This was the side I loved to find in him again whenever I visited him in the quiet home at Guildford, and, amid so many memories and emotions, this was the side I had most in mind when I stood over his grave.'



Evelyn Sharp (Author and contributor to the ‘Yellow Book', who became part of the militant suffrage campaign. A pacifist during the First World War, she later wrote for the Daily Herald. Sister of Cecil Sharp, the collector of folk song and traditions, she married Henry Nevinson in 1933);

'I read Edward Carpenter's books when I was young; I wore his sandals on my summer holidays, waiting months for them as we all did while he made them with his own hands; but I did not meet the man himself until he was seventy years of age. That was in 1914, soon after the outbreak of war, and... it was a great experience to enjoy his friendship for the last fifteen years of his life, and to learn how fine and complete a thing old age can be when it is the fulfilment of a vigorous and inspired life.

(What) struck me particularly, then and always, about Edward Carpenter... was the quality of his friendship. He seemed to have mastered the art of human fellowship... He approached one as a human being, in fact, and this was especially noticeable when the companion was a woman. In the common interchange of thought and communion of spirit there was for him no difference between a man and a woman; he judged them on an absolute equality. It is perhaps difficult for the present generation to see anything remarkable in this, but to women, even of my generation in which the Suffrage movement began to revolutionize the old self-conscious relations between men and women, his matter-of-course assumption that we met on the common ground of our humanity was at least noticeable.

Perhaps the fact that, as he frankly admits more than once, women did not attract him physically may have had something to do with what one might call his detachment of mind where women were concerned. "The romance of my life went elsewhere", he says once; and again: "Perhaps on the emotional side women did not supply what I needed."... Whatever the reason, the way of his approach to women made friendship with him both real and satisfying...'

Whether one found him writing in his little wooden shelter turned towards the sun, in his Surrey garden, or walked with him along the wide green road that topped the hills at the back of his house, the impression remained of someone... who had in the best sense "arrived"...'



W.J. Godfrey   A Worker's Friendship in the Last Years:

‘It was after he arrived at Guildford, when he was living at "Millthorpe", Mountside, that I met my late comrade and friend, Edward Carpenter... It was in February 1924 that my first visit took place when he sent for me to explain the railway strike then taking place. He seemed pleased to hear of our activities and understood our difficulties at once... on my part, if it was not a case of love at first sight, I soon grew to love this young-old man, old in years, but still essentially young... I find it difficult to describe my first impression of his character, but to put it briefly I would say the outstanding impression was that of sympathetic understanding. This was strengthened on each of the many visits I paid him from that day to the end. We met, not as Edward Carpenter, philosopher and author, and Jim Godfrey, engine driver, but as equals and comrades in a great movement that will eventually mean the liberation of humanity.

On one of these early visits he showed me the Manifesto he had just received from the Trade Union Congress on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, and he who had never shouldered his way into the limelight was honestly delighted that the workers' movement recognized him and remembered his work. 

Living as he did, Carpenter had little contact with the outside world, yet his interest in the progress of the Socialist movement remained unflagging, and in these last few years he made me one of his sources of information. He was always immensely satisfied to be able to do the least thing to help. In November 1925 I contested as a Labour candidate the St. Nicolas Ward in which he then resided. The local papers made a personal attack on me and labelled me a "Communist". Carpenter read these papers, and when I called sought anxiously to sign my nomination paper and gave me a special message for my election address. Four times I fought this Ward, and the first three occasions he nominated me and voted. He did not live to see the success on the fourth attempt.

Discussing England, Arise! one day Edward remarked: "They are a long time about it"! "It's coming, for all that," I replied. Taking hold of my hand, he said: "Thank you so much for that note of optimism." He looked with regret upon the leaders of the Labour movement of to-day, who with its growth and attainment of power had given up their earlier Socialist outlook and were bowing and conforming to the old traditions, empty ceremonies, and smug respectability of society that they formerly fought.

I remembered clearly what must have been his last public appearance-at a Labour Rally in the Borough Hall, Guildford... when he spoke slowly and haltingly for few minutes to a working-class audience. Although possibly few of them appreciated or knew of his works, it was clear they realized that here was one who understood them, believed in them, and belonged to them. They, too, suffered with him while he delivered, with obvious difficulty, those few stumbling words, and they listened in a sympathetic silence to the end.

Turning to all workers (in Towards Democracy), he says;

 It is not a little thing, you- wherever you are- following the plough, or clinging with your feet to the wet rigging, or nursing your babe through the long day when your husband is absent, or preparing supper for his return - or you on the footplate of your engine-

*           *           *            *           *

It is not a little thing that by such a life your face should become as a lantern of strength to men;
That wherever you go they should rise up stronger to the battle, and go forth with good courage.
Nay, it is very great.
I do not forget.
Indeed, I worship none more than I worship you...

In between the bright intervals of the last few years he had periods of great feebleness when, unable to express his thoughts, he would simply take my hand, and we understood.'


C.T.Cramp (General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen) in ‘My Earliest Teacher':   

‘The last time I saw him was at his new home near Guildford. Already he had grown enfeebled and slightly deaf; yet his enthusiasm burned as brightly as ever and his interest in current affairs was absolutely undiminished... He was then engaged on what would be, he assured me, his last book, a work upon Eastern religions... I took him out for a little ride through the Surrey heather which was then in bloom and the sight of which gave him great delight... In spite of the weight of his years and the infirmity which I have mentioned, his intellect seemed as keen as ever and his serenity was undisturbed...  To me and to all who knew him personally he will always remain as one of the greatest and most clear-sighted teachers that society has ever known.'



Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (the Cambridge Don, who, out of horror at the First World War, left his King's College seclusion to play a key role in the formation of the League of Nations) in ‘Edward Carpenter as a Friend';

‘It must have been, I think, in 1885 that I first met Edward Carpenter and I believe it was at a lecture he gave in the little hall attached to William Morris's house at Hammersmith. I remember Carpenter on the platform, a tallish spare figure bearded, with a sensitive and beautiful head, but I cannot remember in any detail what he said. He must however have been preaching Socialism...  The key to Carpenter's Socialism is to be found in his personal affections. He wanted a society in which men and women could be lovers and friends, and he found our society badly organized for that purpose. To the economists and politicians of the movement this approach seemed to be sentimental nonsense.

So far as I was personally concerned, it was not in his character of Socialist worker that I knew him. We were more concerned with music, literature, and mysticism. He had a delightful touch on the piano and we used to play duets together. It was so that I made my first acquaintance with the C minor Symphony of Beethoven. He had also a little tune which he called the ‘old thing' which rings in my ears at this moment. 

My latest and most beautiful memories of Carpenter date from the latter part of his life when he was living at Guildford. His sweet and calm wisdom, his humour and his affection shone more amply and tenderly when the heat of the day was done...

Edward's grief (at George Merrill's death) was overwhelming. I remember him walking on my arm to the cemetery at Guildford where they had buried George a few days before, and where he himself was to lie a year or so later. It was a day of pouring rain, and we stood beside the grave, while Carpenter ejaculated again and again, "They have put him away in the cold ground".

He endured, indeed, in those years some of his saddest experiences, but they did not shatter him. Even physical failure, which made him helpless in mind and body, left him still the lover and the friend; and he was tended to the last with the fidelity and patience that only love can give. What he may have found on the other side we do not and shall not know. But we know the quest that inspired him to the end.'



Harold Picton (a conscientious objector, and a member of the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology with a concern for homosexual law reform [Edward Carpenter A Life of Liberty and Love, Sheila Rowbotham, Verso, 2008: p382])

‘Another memory... when Edward Carpenter, Magnus Hirschfeld (the German sexual theorist and campaigner for homosexual rights), Norman Haire, a young Italian barrister, and a young German architect forgathered on the little lawn of a cottage that my comrade and I then had in Surrey-a cottage far away from everywhere, and, as the village policeman said, with "no damned neighbours". Edward always preferred to talk to one at a time, and, as his hearing became less good, preferred it still more. So on this occasion (Edward was then eighty-two) he said to one after another of the guests, "Come, I want to have a talk with you," and took him off to wander round the garden. It was a somewhat perplexing assembly, for the young German had the dark hair, skin, and eyes that we should at once call "Italian", the Italian was a fair blond of "Germanic" type, Norman Haire looked rather "Prussian", Magnus Hirschfeld looked like a "Christian", and all the supposed national characteristics  were hopelessly contradicted. Edward was the international element, and was able linguistically to unite the different nationalities.

Of our last memory of him I dare write little. After George's death there was only the end to be desired. Both my friend and I were overwhelmed by the change in Edward. His life had become a cry for his comrade; the real self was already elsewhere. It was tragic, as all life must be tragic, but in no way hopeless. Something was there-I cannot express what-that remained victor. In those Guildford days, as the shadows gathered, there was one constant ray of light in the self-forgetful and devoted help given by Ted Inigan. We all know that we owe him a debt of thanks.'



Edward Inigan ("Ted") The Last Years:

‘I lived nearly seven years with Edward Carpenter in Guildford, which was the happiest time of my life, until his death occurred on June 28,1929.

I felt the loss of him very much as we were nearly always together; I used to take him out for walks which he enjoyed very much. Often he used to say to me, "Come on, let's get out; I must have some air". Many times, when I would be taking him up to bed at night, he would look out of the window and say what a lovely night it was, and then he would change his mind and we would go out for a walk, sometimes as late as 10.30 or 11 o'clock. The Hog's Back was quite close to us and we often walked out on it in the summer evenings to hear the nightingale, but I am sorry to say that I am afraid he never heard it much. He was always very fond of birds and animals and used to like to make friends with all the dogs. His one regret was that he could not hear the birds sing. He liked to see people, too, very much, and was a great admirer of the modern girl's dress and would often say how sensible it was. His house, "Millthorpe", Mountside, Guildford, was on the high side of the town and four of us-himself, George Merrill, his Norwegian friend Grondahl, and I-lived a very happy and simple life there. He was very devoted to George Merrill and felt the loss of him in January 1928 very much. They had lived together for nearly forty years, and I think that the loss of George hastened on Mr. Carpenter's death. Things were not the same afterwards. The neighbourhood was too hilly for him to get about with comfort, so he sold the house and we lived in rooms for a time until we found a suitable bungalow in the lower part of the town-"Inglenook", Joseph's Road. He bought this bungalow on a Friday, and on the following Sunday he had a seizure and he never regained his walking powers or his full mental powers. We had to take him by ambulance to his new home and he lived quite happily there until his death. He still loved to go out, and I used to wheel him out every day in his chair when the weather was fit to do so. Sometimes I would take him into the town with me when I went to do the shopping and he enjoyed this very much. A lot of his friends came to see him, but he would soon tire of them if they talked too much; sometimes he would not see people at all if he thought they would talk too much. He liked to see two neighbouring friends, Miss Long and Miss Hamblin, very much, and would see them any time. "The long and short of it", he used to call them.

I am pleased to say he did not suffer very much during his thirteen months' illness; he was always fairly cheerful and I was constantly with him, day and night.

Sometimes he would say he was a great trouble to me, but he was not, as it was only pleasure for me to do anything for him, and I would have willingly kept on doing so if only he had lived. He was like a father to me. God rest his soul.'


Gilbert Beith, friend and literary executor:

'...lovingly tended and nursed by his faithful attendant, Edward Inigan, on whom he came to rely, like a child, for all his wants... finally, after three days of semi-unconsciousness, he passed over on the perfect summer afternoon of Friday, June 28, 1929-calmly and without distress.'


E.M. Forster   Some Memories:

‘ is a lovely day to-day, the kind he liked, wind as well as sunlight; a chaffinch is still singing, a fly pretending to be a wasp hovers over this piece of paper, and I must try to put down upon the paper why our friend was not only charming and lovable, but great. His greatness scarcely got into his books. They were famous in their day and did much good, but they are unlikely to live many years now... The depths of his humanity! The words are so oratorical and smug, but the best one can find. And it was a humanity deeper than most of us can conceive. If I am as deep as a pond and you as a lake, Edward Carpenter was the sea. He touched everyone everywhere. Even when he wasn't intimate he was in direct contact, and as for intimacy, as for personal relationships-they were to him the final reality; art, science, and literature were trifles beside them, and religion only acceptable if it promised personal immortality. To say that he made a cult of friendship is again to become oratorical and smug. It was an impulse, not a cult. But it reigned over every province of his life, and he expected it to be acknowledged by others, and perhaps he never understood that for many people personal relationships are unimportant for the reason that their hearts are small. His own heart was great, and made him a great man. This is his secret so far as it can be put into words; the greatness of his heart, the depth of his humanity, the water that not only reflects the sky on its surface, but stretches down towards the centre of the globe, where all lines meet, and the many become the one.

I only knew Edward Carpenter during the last twenty years of his life, when the saint was gaining on the prophet, and cannot say what he was like in the fieriness of his prime. I knew him fairly well, not very well, and I was perhaps too intellectualized and mentally fidgety quite to suit him... Occasionally, for instance, when I was in the middle of some intelligent if useless remark, he would say very gently, "Oh, do sit quiet". How he hated restlessness! It was to him the antithesis both of calm and of passion, it was a disease of civilization, it troubled the lake and clouded the sun, and I am afraid that he would find this very book restless, and would say to its worthy contributors, "Oh, do sit quiet". Or perhaps he would say, "Why don't you all go out for a walk instead?" He was always going for a walk himself... escaping from the words of men into the sunshine, and it is out of doors, rather than in a memorial volume, that he will expect to be remembered by his friends.'


The above quotations are taken from Edward Carpenter In Appreciation, edited by Gilbert Beith, published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London, 1931.The Edward Carpenter Forum has made every effort to obtain permission from literary executors and copyright holders to reproduce these excerpts. We would be grateful to hear from anyone else with an interest in this regard, or who can give us further information. Our thanks go to the following for their kind permissions; Reading City Library in regard to Gilbert Beith, the Trustees of the Michael Ayrton Estate in regard to Henry Nevinson and Evelyn Sharp, and King's College Cambridge in regard to Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson and E.M. Forster.