Memories of Edward Carpenter by R F Muirhead

Robert Franklin Muirhead wrote Memories of Edward Carpenter which was published in Gilbert Beith (ed.), Edward Carpenter: In appreciation (Routledge, 1931). We give a version below.

Memories of Edward Carpenter.

It was in 1886 when I first met Edward Carpenter, who was giving some lectures in Glasgow for the Glasgow Branch of the Socialist League, of which I was a member. I had read with delight England's Ideal and was not disappointed when I met its author. He was my guest (at my lodgings, 22 Arlington Street) on that occasion, and the friendship he and I formed then was never interrupted. From year to year I paid visits of a few days or a week to Millthorpe, where at first Albert Fearnehough and his wife and daughter, later the Adams', and then George Merrill were Edward's house-mates. There I met and formed friendships with a number of the Sheffield Socialists, as well as others from a distance, such as Philip Dalmas, that remarkable American composer and singer, who set some of Whitman's chants to music. There also I met Dr Cecil Reddie and a project was mooted to start a new school on more or less Socialist lines with Reddie as head master and with the co-operation of Carpenter and myself and possibly others.

It was not till after a year or two's incubation that this project actually materialised.

At one stage it was contemplated that a site in Yorkshire within easy reach of Millthorpe should be chosen, and that the new school should be run by four partners, Dr Reddie, Carpenter, William Cassels, and myself, Carpenter giving part time and the three others their whole time to the work of the school. But finally a mansion house in Derbyshire was fixed on, and its original name "Abbot's Clownholme" shortened to "Abbotsholme".

There the new School started in 1889. The lines on which it started were no doubt due to the very definite ideas of Dr Reddie on school education, and were somewhat different from what Carpenter had in mind, and partly on this account and partly because the site chosen was not quite near to Millthorpe, Edward Carpenter did not enter the partnership but remained as adviser and occasional visitor, a strong supporter of the School. The original staff included the three partners with Dr Reddie as head master, Mr J H Badley (who afterwards founded Bedales School), Herbert Pearson (who managed the farm), Miss Aitchison, and Mrs Walters, and a workshop instructor furnished by the London "Guild of Handicraft". C R Ashbee and Lowes Dickinson who were both much interested in the project, were appointed "visitors".

Towards the end of the first year, however, differences arose between Dr Reddie and Mr Cassels, which seemed to make it impossible for them to continue co-operation. I took the view that the blame for this rested on Dr Reddie, and after some consultation with Edward Carpenter, Cassels and I decided to break up the partnership. Thereupon it was arranged that Cassels and I should leave at the end of the term and allow Dr Reddie to carry on the School on his own lines.

A more complete account of the early history of Abbotsholme School might be interesting, but I think I have recorded all that is essential to explain the part taken by Edward Carpenter in connection with it.

About the same time I was indebted to him for the opportunity of making the acquaintance of that fiery genius Olive Schreiner, and of forming a friendship with her which was lasting. When the war broke out she was much disappointed that Edward did not come out more strongly as a pacifist, and I am afraid that because of that the long-standing friendship between them was latterly somewhat clouded.

When Edward moved from Millthorpe in Derbyshire to the later "Millthorpe" at Guildford, I think it was because of the breaking of the strongest link that bound him to the North, by the death of George Hukin, whose sweet nature inspired more than one of the poems in Towards Democracy.

About the late 'eighties I had the privilege of making acquainted with each other Edward Carpenter and James M Brown, the latter one of the most well-loved and influential of the Glasgow Socialists of that time, though on account of his retiring disposition not known to the outer world. Edward was delighted with James M. Brown, and when the latter's poor health required that he should find quarters in the country, found lodgings for him near Millthorpe, where he stayed during his last years. After Brown's death in 1893, Carpenter had published a slim booklet of poems by Brown, with prefatory notes by himself and by Bruce Glasier.

One of the later poems in Towards Democracy is recognisable as a poetic version of an episode of James M Brown's life.

Another aspect of my friend was revealed to me when he and I climbed the easily accessible peak of Goatfell in Arran one summer. Not content with that exploit, though at that time well on in years, Carpenter led me along the top of the narrow ridge stretching south-east from the summit, including some rather dangerous bits, the risk of taking which he seemed to enjoy.

I hope these somewhat disjointed notes may be of some little interest to readers who cherish the memory of my late friend.

Last Updated March 2021