29 August 1844
|Died||28 June 1929 (aged 84)|
|Occupation||Poet, anthologist, early gay activist and socialist philosopher|
|Partner(s)||George Merrill (1891–1928)|
Edward Carpenter (29 August 1844 – 28 June 1929) was an English socialist poet, philosopher, anthologist, and early activist for gay rights and animal rights. He was a noted vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist and wrote extensively on the subject.
A poet and writer, he was a close friend of Rabindranath Tagore, and a friend of Walt Whitman. He corresponded with many famous figures, such as Annie Besant, Isadora Duncan, Havelock Ellis, Roger Fry, Mahatma Gandhi, Keir Hardie, J. K. Kinney, Jack London, George Merrill, E. D. Morel, William Morris, Edward R. Pease, John Ruskin, and Olive Schreiner.
Born in Hove in Sussex, Carpenter was educated at nearby Brighton College, where his father was a governor. His brothers Charles, George and Alfred also went to school there. When he was ten, Carpenter displayed a flair for the piano.
His academic ability became evident relatively late in his youth, but was sufficient to earn him a place at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Whilst there he began to explore his feelings for men. One of the most notable examples of this is his close friendship with Edward Anthony Beck (later Master of Trinity Hall), which, according to Carpenter, had "a touch of romance". Beck eventually ended their friendship, causing Carpenter great emotional heartache. Carpenter graduated as 10th Wrangler in 1868. After university, he joined the Church of England as a curate, "as a convention rather than out of deep Conviction".
In 1871 Carpenter was invited to become tutor to the royal princes George Frederick (later King George V) and his elder brother, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, but declined the position. His lifelong friend and fellow Cambridge student John Neale Dalton took the position. Carpenter continued to visit Dalton while he was tutor. They were given photographs of the pair, taken by the princes.
In the following years he experienced an increasing sense of dissatisfaction with his life in the church and university, and became weary of what he saw as the hypocrisy of Victorian society. He found great solace in reading poetry, later remarking that his discovery of the work of Walt Whitman caused "a profound change" in him. (My Days and Dreams p. 64)
Carpenter left the church in 1874 and became a lecturer in astronomy, sun worship, the lives of ancient Greek women and music, moving to Leeds as part of University Extension Movement, which was formed by academics who wished to introduce higher education to deprived areas of England. He hoped to lecture to the working classes, but found that his lectures were attended by middle class people, many of whom showed little active interest in the subjects he taught. Disillusioned, he moved to Chesterfield, but finding that town dull, he based himself in nearby Sheffield a year later. Here he finally came into contact with manual workers, and he began to write poetry. His sexual preferences were for working men: "the grimy and oil-besmeared figure of a stoker" or "the thick-thighed hot coarse-fleshed young bricklayer with a strap around his waist".
In Sheffield, Carpenter became increasingly radical. Influenced by a disciple of Engels, Henry Hyndman, he joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in 1883 and attempted to form a branch in the city. The group instead chose to remain independent, and became the Sheffield Socialist Society. While in the city he worked on a number of projects including highlighting the poor living conditions of industrial workers. In 1884, he left the SDF with William Morris to join the Socialist League.
When his father Charles Carpenter died in 1882, he left his son a considerable fortune. This enabled Carpenter to quit his lectureship to start a simpler life of market gardening in Millthorpe, near Holmesfield, Derbyshire. Carpenter popularised the phrase the "Simple Life" in his essay Simplification of Life in his England's Ideal (1887). He asked Harold Cox to send him a pair of sandals from India, and used this pair as a template to begin making sandals at Millthorpe.
In May 1889, Carpenter wrote a piece in the Sheffield Independent calling Sheffield the laughing-stock of the civilized world and said that the giant thick cloud of smog rising out of Sheffield was like the smoke arising from Judgment Day, and that it was the altar on which the lives of many thousands would be sacrificed. He said that 100,000 adults and children were struggling to find sunlight and air, enduring miserable lives, unable to breathe and dying of related illnesses.
Drawn increasingly to Hindu philosophy, he traveled to India and Ceylon in 1890. Following conversations with the guru Ramaswamy (known as the Gnani) there, he developed the conviction that socialism would bring about a revolution in human consciousness as well as of economic conditions. His account of the travel was published in 1892 as From Adam's Peak to Elephanta: Sketches in Ceylon and India. The book's spiritual explorations would subsequently influence the Russian author Peter Ouspensky, who discusses it extensively in his own book, Tertium Organum (1912).
On his return from India in 1891, he met George Merrill, a working-class man also from Sheffield, 22 years his junior, and the two men struck up a relationship, eventually cohabiting in 1898. Merrill had been raised in the slums of Sheffield and had no formal education. Their relationship endured and they remained partners for the rest of their lives, a fact made all the more extraordinary by the hysteria about homosexuality generated by the Oscar Wilde trial of 1895. Carpenter remarked in his work The Intermediate Sex:
Eros is a great leveller. Perhaps the true Democracy rests, more firmly than anywhere else, on a sentiment which easily passes the bounds of class and caste, and unites in the closest affection the most estranged ranks of society. It is noticeable how often Uranians of good position and breeding are drawn to rougher types, as of manual workers, and frequently very permanent alliances grow up in this way, which although not publicly acknowledged have a decided influence on social institutions, customs and political tendencies.
Carpenter included among his friends the scholar, author, naturalist, and founder of the Humanitarian League, Henry S. Salt, and his wife, Catherine; the critic, essayist and sexologist, Havelock Ellis, and his wife, Edith; actor and producer Ben Iden Payne; Labour activists, John Bruce and Katharine Glasier; writer and scholar, John Addington Symonds; and the writer and feminist, Olive Schreiner. E. M. Forster was also close friends with the couple and a 1912 visit to Millthorpe inspired him to write his gay-themed novel, Maurice. Forster records in his diary that Merrill "...touched my backside - gently and just above the buttocks. I believe he touched most people's. The sensation was unusual and I still remember it, as I remember the position of a long vanished tooth. He made a profound impression on me and touched a creative spring."
The relationship between Carpenter and Merrill was the template for the relationship between Maurice Hall and Alec Scudder, the gamekeeper in Forster's novel. Carpenter was also a significant influence on the author D. H. Lawrence, whose Lady Chatterley's Lover can be seen as a heterosexualised Maurice.
In 1915, he published The Healing of Nations and the Hidden Sources of Their Strife, where he argued that the source of war and discontent in western society was class-monopoly and social inequality.
After the First World War, he had moved to Guildford, Surrey, with George Merrill and the two lived at 23 Mountside Road. In January 1928, Merrill died suddenly. Carpenter was devastated and he sold their house and lodged for a short time, with his companion and carer Ted Inigan, at 17 Wodeland Avenue, just a short walk from Mountside. They then moved to a bungalow called ‘Inglenook’ in Josephs Road.
In May 1928, Carpenter suffered a paralytic stroke. He lived another 13 months before he died on 28 June 1929, aged 84. He was interred, in the same grave as Merrill, at the Mount Cemetery in Guildford.
Ansel Adams was an admirer of Carpenter's writings, especially Towards Democracy. Aldous Huxley recommended Carpenter's pamphlet Civilization: Its Cause and Cure in his book Science, Liberty and Peace.  Herbert Read credited Carpenter's pamphlet Non-Governmental Society with converting him to anarchism. Leslie Paul was influenced by Carpenter's ideas; in turn he passed on Carpenter's ideas to the scouting group he founded, The Woodcraft Folk.
Carpenter has also been known as the "Saint in Sandals", the "Noble Savage" and, more recently, the "gay godfather of the British left".
|The Religious Influence of Art||1870|
|Narcissus and other Poems||1873|
|Moses: A Drama in Five Acts||1875|
|Modern Money-Lending and the Meaning of Dividends: A Tract||1885|
|England's Ideal: And Other Essays on Social Subject||1887|
|Chants of Labour: A Song Book of the People with Music||1888|
|Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure||1889|
|From Adam's Peak to Elephanta: Sketches in Ceylon and India||1892|
|A Visit to Gñani: from Adam's Peak to Elephanta||1892|
|Homogenic Love and Its Place in a Free Society||1894|
|Sex-Love and Its Place in a Free Society||1894|
|Marriage in Free Society||1894|
|Love's Coming of Age||1896|
|An Unknown People||1897|
|Angels' Wings: A Series of Essays on Art and its Relation to Life||1898|
|The Art of Creation||1904|
|Prisons, Police, and Punishment: An Inquiry Into the Causes and Treatment of Crime and Criminals||1905|
|Days with Walt Whitman: With Some Notes on His Life and Work||1906|
|Iolaus: Anthology of Friendship||1902|
|Sketches from Life in Town and Country||1908|
|The Intermediate Sex: A Study of Some Transitional Types of Men and Women||1908|
|The Drama of Love and Death: A Study of Human Evolution and Transfiguration||1912|
|George Merrill, A True History||1913|
|Intermediate Types Among Primitive Folk: A Study in Social Evolution||1914|
|The Healing of Nations||1915|
|My Days and Dreams, Being Autobiographical Notes||1916|
|The Story of My Books||1916|
|Towards Industrial Freedom||1917|
|Pagan and Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning||1920|
|Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure, and Other Essays||1921|
|The Story of Eros and Psyche||1923|
|Some Friends of Walt Whitman: A Study in Sex-Psychology||1924|
|The Psychology of the Poet Shelley||1925|
Chants of Labour was a songbook for socialists, contributions to which Carpenter had solicited in The Commonweal. It comprised works by John Glasse, Edith Nesbit, John Bruce Glasier, Andreas Scheu, William Morris, Jim Connell, Herbert Burrows, and others.
|url=value (help). fordham.edu. 1997. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
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