Photographers Unknown, Clouds and Daemonic Thunder Through the Blue Vault
O APRIL, month of Nymphs and Fauns and Cupids,
Month of the Sungod’s kisses, Earth’s sweet passion,
Of fanciful winds and showers;
Apollo, glorious over hill and dale
Ethereally striding; grasses springing
Rapt to his feet, buds bursting, flowers out-breathing
Their liberated hearts in love to him.
(The little black-cap garrulous on the willow
Perching so prim, the crested chaffinch warbling,
And primrose and celandine, anemone and daisy,
Starring the tender herb which lambs already nibble.)
Month of all-gathering warmth,
Of breathless moments, hotter and hotter growing-
Smiles turned to fire, kisses to fierce earnest-
Of sultry swoons, pauses, and strange suspense
(Clouds and daemonic thunder through the blue vault
Then the delirious up-break- the great fountains of the
deep, in Sex,
Loosened to pouring failing rushing waters;
Shafts of wild light; and Sky and Earth in one another’s
Melted, and all of Heaven spent in streams of love
Towards the Loved one.
George Carpenter, April, Towards Democracy, 1911
Born in August of 1844 in Hove, a seaside city located next to Brighton, Edward Carpenter was an English poet, utopian socialist, philosopher, and an early activist for both prison reform and gay rights. Among his most notable philosophical publications was his 1889 “Civilization: Its Cause and Cure” which contained Carpenter’s famous essays on civilization and his theory that it is a disease of mankind that must be cured. Papers included in this collection discuss the rampant ill-health suffered by society as well as criticisms of modern science to support this theory.
One of four siblings, Edward Carpenter was educated at nearby Brighton College where his father served as governor. A late starter academically in life, he was still able to secure a position at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. While at Cambridge, Carpenter was influenced by the teachings of Christian Socialist theologian Frederick Denison Maurice, who had recently founded London’s Working Men’s College. He also began to explore his sexual identity; the most notable example of which was his close relationship with fellow student Edward Anthony Beck, who eventually ended the relationship.
In 1868, Carpenter graduated from Trinity College as tenth Wrangler, having earned first-class honors in mathematics. After graduation, he remained in Cambridge and was ordained, by convention and not conviction, as a curate of the Church of England where he served at St. Edward’s parish under F. D. Maurice. In 1871, at the age of twenty-seven, Carpenter was invited, but declined, to become a tutor to Prince George Frederick, later King George V, and his brother Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence. This position was accepted by his lifelong friend from college, John Neale Dalton, whom Carpenter continued to visit during Dalton’s fourteen-year tutelage to the princes.
Discouraged with his life in the church and university and weary of the hypocrisy of Victorian society, Edward Carpenter immersed himself in reading, particularly finding solace in the works of Walt Whitman whom he would later meet in 1877. He was released from his duties in the Anglican ministry and left the church in 1874. Moving to Leeds, Carpenter became a lecturer with the University Extension Movement, formed to provide education to deprived communities. His lectures on astronomy and ancient Greek culture and music were, however, not attended by the working classes but by mostly middle-class people who expressed no real interest in the subjects.
Disillusioned, Carpenter moved to Sheffield, a crucial center of England’s Industrial Revolution, where he came in contact with its manual workers and, inspired, began to write poetry. During this time in Sheffield, Carpenter became increasingly radical and joined the Social Democratic Federation, Britain’s first organized socialist political party. Upon his father’s death in 1882, Carpenter inherited a substantial sum of money, in excess of six-hundred thousand pounds in today’s currency. This inheritance allowed him to cease lecturing and start a simpler life on a farm managed by Albert Ferneyhough and his family.
Edward Carpenter and Albert Ferneyhough eventually became lovers and moved in 1883, with Albert’s family, to Millthorpe in Derbyshire. In Millthorpe, Carpenter built a large house with outbuildings constructed of local stone with slate roofs; a small business was started with marketable garden produce and handmade leather sandals. As a member of the Social Democratic Federation, Carpenter worked on a number of projects to improve the living conditions of industrial workers. He left the SDF in 1884 and, along with textile designer and author William Morris, joined the Socialist League.
In 1883, Carpenter published the first part of “Towards Democracy”, a long poem expressing his idea of spiritual democracy and a freer, more just society. This tome, heavily influenced by Walt Whitman’s poetry and passages from the Bhagavad Gita, was later expanded several times with the complete edition published in 1905. In 1887, Carpenter published his “England’s Ideal”, a collection of essays which included his “Simplification of Life”. From 1888 to 1889, he lived with Cecil Reddle, an educational reformer whom he helped found the Abbotsholme School, a progressive alternative to public education.
Drawn increasingly to Hindu philosophy, Edward Carpenter traveled to India and Ceylon where he developed the conviction that socialism would bring about a revolution in both economic conditions and human consciousness. His account of the journey was published as the 1892 “From Adam’s Peak to Elephanta: Sketches in Ceylon and India”. On his return to England in 1891, Carpenter met George Merrill, a Sheffield working-class man twenty-two years his junior. After the Ferneyhough family left Millthorpe in 1893, Merrill became his partner, cohabiting from 1898, and remained with Carpenter for the rest of their lives.
Carpenter and Merrill had many friends among activists and artists, including Henry Stephens Salt, founder of the Humanitarian League; author Aldous Huxley; essayist and sexologist Havelock Ellis; actor and producer Ben Iden Payne; Labor activists Bruce and Katharine Glasier; and feminist writer Olive Shreiner. One of his closest friends was the writer E. M. Forster, who often visited the couple at Millthorpe. Carpenter and Merrill’s relationship would inspire Forster during a 1913 visit to write his gay-themed novel “Maurice”.
In 1902, Edward Carpenter published his anthology of prose and verse “Ioläus: An Anthology of Friendship” and, in 1915, published “The Healing of Nations and the Hidden Sources of Their Strife”, a tome against class-monopoly and social inequality. His 1921 book, “Pagan and Christian Creeds” espoused the story of Christ as mythology. In 1922 after the death of Carpenter’s former lover George Hukin, Carpenter and Merrill relocated to Guildford in Surrey. On Carpenter’s eightieth birthday, he was presented with an album, signed by every member of the Labor Party Government, in recognition of his support for the working classes.
In January of 1928, George Merrill, who had grown dependent on alcohol since moving to Surrey, died suddenly. Carpenter was devastated and sold their house and lodged for a short time with his care giver Ted Inigran. They took a small bungalow in Surrey where, in May of 1928, Carpenter had a stroke. He lived for another thirteen months and died on the 28th of June in 1929, at the age of eighty-four. He was interred in the same grave as Merrill at the Mount Cemetery in Guildford, England.
Note: A collection of Edward Carpenter’s works and papers are housed at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin. This collection includes letters and the hand-written manuscripts of “Toward Industrial Freedom” and “The Trojan War & Constantinople”, among other items.
A transcript of a discussion, given by poet Allen Ginsberg, on Edward Carpenter’s 1888 “The Secret of Time and Satan” can be found at The Allen Ginsberg Project website. An audio of that discussion is also provided. The discussion is located at: https://allenginsberg.org/2014/03/expansive-poetics-42-edward-carpenter-4/
Top Insert Image: Fred Holland Day, “Edward Carpenter”, 1900, Black and White Photogravure, 9.9 x 7.3 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London
Second Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Edward Carpenter and George Merrill”
Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “George Edward Hukin, Edward Carpenter and George Merrill”, Date Unknown, Photogravure
Fourth Insert Image: Henry A Bishop, “Edward Carpenter”, 1907, Oil on Canvas, 47.3 x 43.8 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London
Bottom Insert Image: Alvin Langdon Coburn, “Edward Carpenter”, November 28 1905, Photogravure, 20.8 x 15.7 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London