Edward Carpenter- 1844-1929 : A Apostile of Freedom (An Old and Rare Book)
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Edward Carpenter- 1844-1929 : A Apostile of Freedom (An Old and Rare Book)

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Item Code: NAZ625
Author: Dilip Kumar Barua
Publisher: The University of Burdwan
Language: English
Edition: 1991
Pages: 264
Other Details: 10.00 X 6.00 inch
Weight 400 gm
About the Book

This work on Edward Carpenter, the mystic poet and social philosopher, is the first full-scale bio-critical study of the author. It was submitted originally as a Ph.D. thesis at the Unive:sity of Sheffield, U.K., in 1966. Entirely based on primary materials avail- able in various manuscript collections in England, it throws new light on this late Victorian author's legendary life and significant activities. With a sturdy eclecticism Carpenter reflected in his works, in half a century of active literary life, the various philoscphi- cal, politicai, religious and lite-ary movements which shaped the closing decades of the nineteenth century. One important dimension of the work is its explora- tion of -Carpenter’s interest in Indian mystical and Philosophical thought, his visit to India in 1890, and the impact of Indian thought on his life and work.

Among its positive findings, this study was the first to point out Carpenter’s influence on D. H. Lawrence. It brought to notice several unpublished letters of important twentieth century autho-s like Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Bertrand Russell, all admitting Carpenter’s influence on them, affirming the importance of his pioneering studies on sexual ques- tions, and notably on homosexuality.

The work on the whole seeks to confirm Carpenter as a significant influence on the literature and thought of the late nineteeth century, and as a relevant author for us in the twentieth.

About the Author

Dr. Dilip Kumar Barua was educated at Banaras, Leeds and Sheffield Universities. He has published numerous articles on nineteenth century studies and is an accredited scholar im that field. He joined Bur- dwan University as Professor and Head of the Depart. ment of English in 1977 and is now one of the senior Professors of English at the University. Earlier he taught at Gauhati and Dibrugarh Universities.


Edward Carpenter was born of middle-class parents in Brighton on 29 August, 1844. He studied Mathematics at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he later became a Clerical Fellow and was ordained priest in 1870. Four years after, he relinquished Holy Orders and left Cambridge to take up an appointment in the newly instituted University Extension Lectures for the North of England. His life took another decisive turn a few years later when he came to live with a working-class family near Sheffield and undertook market-gardening in collaboration with them. From 1881, when he took this step, till his death in 1929, Carpenter’s life and work combined to make him seem almost a legend in his life-time. In Sheffield and the district picture post-cards were at one time sold with his photograph and that of his house. Mé£llthorpe, near Sheffield, where he lived for about forty years, was virtually turned into a place of pilgrimage.

There were various facets of Carpenter’s life and often his admirers were satisfied if the side they wanted to see most was presented. This is apparent in all the essays and books written on Carpenter during his life. His spiritual message was relayed without showing its historical or philosophical connections, which made him appear more as an inspired prophet than a social thinker. For this reason, it may be, he did not receive much attention from the literary critics. To the socialists he became the social prophet who spelled out their ideals in spiritual terms, but they were embarrassed by his mysticism and his essays on sexual subjects. To the large group of Humani- tarians, Theosophists and Spiritualists, that flourished in the closing decades of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth, Carpenter, on the other hand, was a mystic and an interpreter of Eastern philosophy. Whereas a younger group of writers, like Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Bertrand Russell, cared only for Carpenter’s courageous essays on sexual topics. E.M. Forster and a few others of the Bloomsbury group udmired him for his teaching and example about personal relationships, and ignored his Philosophy. What is, however, most. interesting is that Carpenter drew all these various groups towards him, and, this itself indicates the important position Carpenter held as a man of letters between 1890 and 1920.

A committed man throughout his life, Carpenter yet had the intellectual insight and detachment which enabled him to see ahead of the issues involved in action. Thus his life and works were linked up with a significant part of the social history of his time. I have tried to look at his life and work in the light of the intellectual, political and religious movements of the later half of the nineteenth century. But as we are most interested in the issues and ideas that still have some relevance to our time, I have proportionately given more importance to his sociological ideas than to his spiritual message. I have also skipped over his activities during the First World War, when he wrote various essays against war and conscription and, owing to his balanced estimate of the problems, had a considerable influence, but they did not seem to strike any new note. The war did not shake him out of his faith in the possibilities of free- dom. The ideas cherished in his earlier works dominated all his life.

I have devoted a whole chapter on Carpenter’s connection with India and mysticism because Indian thought played a major vart in shaping his philosophy. Besides, I think, that Carpenter’s importance as a mystical poet has been rather undervalued. His reputation as a mere ‘imitator of Whitman’ (he was called by many ‘the Walt Whitman of England’) has led the anthologists and interpreters of Mysticism to ignore the mystical vision of Towards Democracy. The mysticism of this book is of course, not Christian in the sense that it does not depict ‘con- templation and self-surrender to obtain union with or absorption into the Deity’.1 Carpenter’s Vedantic mysticism of cosmic egotism, where the soul identifies itself with the universal forces of nature, and the Absolute, and, even usurps the role of God, may therefore be easily dismissed as an imitation of Walt Whit- man.

But mysticism does not necessarily imply a direct personal contact with God, and may also represent a psychical sense of unity. To apprehend the Divine Ground or the Greater Self in every human being is to realise this unity with the higher pur- pose of life. In the unitary thought of the Indian philosophical works, The Upanishads, there was no room for two absolutes, so Atman and Brahaman must be one. The early Christians also, at least those who were brought up in the schools of Neo- Platonist philosophy, had a similar conviction. If the soul is infinite and immortal in its nature, it cannot be anything but God. So the religion of The Upanishads is not so much a revela- tion to be attained through faith as am effort to unveil the deeper layers of being and get into supreme understanding with them. This was exactly what Carpenter’s major poem, Towards Demo- cracy (1883) tried to present as the new spiritual message : Outwards all proceeds: Brahma from himself sheds and shreds the universes; I from myself, you from yourself. (Sec. XXXII).

Carpenter connected this mystical, idealistic faith with his sociology, derived from such different sources as Rousseau, Marx, Morgan, Herbert Spencer and Whitman. He put self-realisation at the root of all social hope, as it appeared to him that ‘there was no ultimate antagonism’? between individual fulfilment and social good. To honour the immeasurable gift of one’s own per- sonality is to admit the same possibility in others, and that is the base of the law of equality. To realise this law of equality is to attain the larger life, which, according to Carpenter, was the aim of socialism. For this view of socialism, which tried to reconcile libertarin individualism with socialistic collectivism, his writings were a source of great inspiration to the early so- cialists in England. The historian of Radicalism of England, Dr MacCoby, considered Carpenter’s works even more impor- tant than those of William Morris in this regard.

Not only as a writer but also as a lecturer on socialist platforms, Carpenter exerted considerable influence. Of course, he was not an orator in any sense of the term; yet he seemed to have radiated charm. The historian of the socialist movement: in Bristol, Samson Bryher, records how Carpenter’s speeches: made many converts in that city. Another important contribu- tion Carpenter made to socialism in Bristol was to help the socialists there financially to establish a small library. This: gave Ramsay Macdonald, then a youth of eighteen who had just come from Scotland to take up an appointment at Bristol, his first socialist task as a librarian. Macdonald always remain-. ed an admirer of Carpenter and after his election as the first. Labour Prime Minister, wrote from Chequers on July 26, 1924: I Your note is very heartening. The good-will of few I others is so pleasing to me. I have a heavy burden and I can rarely do all I want to do. I can but turn my face in the right direction and stagger on a few steps: then. a rest and on again. Your note brings back memories of sunnier days .... In the evenings I often think of you.

On Carpenter’s 80th birthday, Macdonald’s Cabinet pre- sented him with a signed autograph book in vellum in grate- ful recognition of his service to the Labour movement.

As a socialist Carpenter had the reputation of being above all party conflicts, though he was philosophically more an anarchist than anything else. In the nineties, when bickerings between different socialist groups were at their height, he was the centre of unity. He urged upon his comrades the need for a ‘larger heart’: ‘A larger heart we want towards each other’,. he wrote in the Clarion for November, 1894, ‘and through the Labour movement’ .

Such a big thing it is, and is going to be such immeasur- able work to be done, of all sorts, of all kinds. Burns at, his hand, Keir Hardie at his, Nanquam (Robert: Blatchford) at another, Morris and Kropotkin at an-. other, and the unknown equally important workers each. at theirs.

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