Edward Carpenter and Brighton

Edward Carpenter and Brighton

“Strange,” so Edward Carpenter wrote to me two years ago before his death, “that your destiny and mine should be so intimately associated with Brighton, of all places in the world!” and probably not a few of Carpenter’s readers have noted the strangeness of the fact that it was in this town that the writer of “Towards Democracy” was born and educated. Brunswick Square was the scene of that anything but democratic family life of which he has left us an account in his book, “My Days and Dreams”; and it was a pleasure to his friends when he would talk of his father, a quaint old retired naval officer, who always returned from any part of the world in order to eat the Michaelmas goose at home. The father’s portrait may be seen in the newspaper room of the Brighton Public Library, and it is rather entertaining to read (as showing to what purposes the office of magistrate could in those days be employed) that he was induced to take his seat on the Brighton Bench as a means of calming his extreme nervousness of mind.

Educated at Brighton College, where he was inevitably known as “Chips,” Edward seems to have had a pleasant time enough under “the good Dr. Griffith;” but as he grew older the artificially of the life was less and less to his taste, for, as one of his nieces has recorded, “in Brighton, in the reign of Victoria, one had to be ‘smart’ or die socially.” It was in the sea and Downs that he found relief. “We lived within 200 yards of the sea,” he has written, “and its voice was written our ears night and day.” And again, “Three or four miles from Brighton, and one is in a world remote from man.” The Downs, he tells us, were his “escape”; and it was among them that he first began, at a later period, to write.

Edward had from the first what he calls “a fatal bias towards religion.” Indeed, his chief memory of Brighton, as he told me in one of his latest letters, was “walking with his mother on Sundays from Brunswick Square to hear F. W. Robertson preach.” At Cambridge he took Orders, and served for a time under that fine old man, F. D. Maurice. Then, losing faith in the Church (as in Brighton), he unfrocked himself, and found his true vocation in Socialism. After that his sojourns in Brighton were only occasional; but it is interesting to read that in 1879 he worked for a couple of months in a joiner’s shop in this town, making panel doors, and getting experiences that were novel to him.

Through my brother-in-law, J. L. Joynes, who, for his Socialism, was sacked from an Eton mastership, I got to know Carpenter, with Bernard Shaw, Champion, and a lot of others, and became very intimate with him in the early nineties; and the chance that my father-in-law, an old Eton master, had found retirement in Brighton was another link. By this time Edward’s father had died, and his family had left Brunswick Square. He sometimes paid visits with me to the town, and was a welcome guest in Montpelier Road, where the Joynes family lived.

It was on one of these occasions, when we were passing through Hove, he pointed to the church of St. John the Baptist, and said, “I preached there once; it was a regular bonnet-shop.” We of course re-visited his Brunswick Square, and lo! a big boat was passing in front with an advertisement of somebody’s pills painted conspicuously on its sail. He groaned aloud!

His last visit to Brighton (1927) was spent in my house. He was then becoming very feeble, and was glad to be accompanied by Ted Inigan, who was his most devoted companion towards the end. But even then he could enjoy life, and went with us to the West Pier to hear Paul Belinfante’s orchestra, which he greatly appreciated. In a card telling us that he had got back safely to Guildford, he wrote how he had seen his favourite Downs from the railway carriage—“St. Martha on the hill-top sprang into sight all at once.”

Henry S. Salt

Unknown, After 1929