Chamblee54

The Whitman To Ginsberg Express

Posted in History, Library of Congress by chamblee54 on July 27, 2021


“… I’ve slept with Neal Cassady who slept with Gavin Arthur who slept with Edward Carpenter who described sleeping with Whitman to Gavin Arthur. [The “Gay Succession”]” Allen Ginsberg was fond of his place in a line of gay succession. This is a repost.

A 1974 interview makes the same point about Whitman-Carpenter-Arthur, but does not mention Cassady-Ginsberg. Could anyone be telling stories? The Carpenter-Arthur connection happened in 1924, but is described in wonderful detail by Mr. Arthur in 1967. There are few details about the Arthur-Cassady link in the chain. As a BBC interviewer said to Mr. Ginsberg in 1994 “Both Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac, I think, described you as a “con-man extraordinaire”. What did they mean?” AG: “Oh, maybe they were projecting their own goofiness on me.”

“Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) was a writer and gay mystic and lived in England all his life. Although ordained an Anglican priest in 1869 he soon renounced religion and became a Fabian socialist. Among his works on social reform is Towards Democracy (1883-1902), a long, un- rhymed poem revealing the influence of his friend Walt Whitman. He edited the first gay literary collection, Iolaus: An Anthology of Friendship”

Mr. Carpenter exchanged letters with Mr. Whitman. “Although Whitman was not a socialist, his writing had a profound effect on Carpenter, who made the long trip to America primarily as a pilgrimage to his literary and spiritual inspiration. He visited the poet for several weeks in 1877 and again in 1884. In 1906 he published an account of his visits to America, Days with Walt Whitman, writing a respectful, even somewhat glorified, portrait of his idol.”

“It was not until the 1966 publication of a memoir by Gavin Arthur entitled The Circle Of Sex that the intimate details of Carpenter’s visits were revealed. Arthur slept in bed with Carpenter … leaving us with our only description of Whitman’s sexual behavior, an area otherwise shrouded in mystery and controversy.” In later years, we learned that Mr. Whitman possibly spent a happy afternoon with Oscar Wilde. Mr. Whitman was also fond of cruising the Brooklyn Waterfront.

Gavin Arthur (born Chester Alan Arthur III; March 21, 1901 – April 28, 1972) is a key link in this chain. As often noted, he was the grandson of Chester Arthur. The elder Mr. Arthur was elected Vice President in 1880, and promoted after the death of James Garfield.

The younger Mr. Arthur was a piece of work. In the early 1920’s, Mr. Arthur dropped out of Columbia, got married, and moved to Ireland. Mr. Arthur somehow got to meet his idol, Edward Carpenter. At the time of this meeting, Mr. Arthur was 23, and Mr. Carpenter was 80.

THE GAY SUCCESSION “… is a document given me by Gavin Arthur in 1967.” The story goes into extravagant detail about the meeting between Mr. Arthur and Mr. Carpenter. One wonders how the elderly Mr. Arthur remembers all this 43 years later.

EC – “No, Walt was ambigenic,” he said. “His contact with women was far less than his contact with men. But he did engender several children and his greatest female contact was that Creole in New Orleans. I don’t think he ever loved any of them as much as he loved Peter Doyle.”
GA – “I suppose you slept with him?” I blurted out half scared to ask.”
EC – “Oh yes–once in a while–he regarded it as the best way to get together with another man. He thought that people should ‘know’ each other on the physical and emotional plane as well as the mental. … the best part of comrade love was that there was no limit to the number of comrades”
GA – “How did he make love?” I forced myself to ask.”
EC – “I will show you,” he smiled. “Let us go to bed.”
Mr. Arthur spares few details in what happens next.

Chester III renamed himself Gavin. After losing the financial support of his family, Mr. Arthur moved to San Francisco. For a while, he sold newspapers on the street. “And he delved deep into both astrology and sexology. Gavin took his star charts very seriously: When one self-administered reading told him he was heading to prison soon, he immediately drove to San Quentin and took a job as a teacher, the better to prevent going in as an inmate.”

“By the 1960s, Gavin Arthur had become a well-known and respected astrologer. In 1966, some Bay Area activists, cultural and political, began to plan a transformative event. They wanted to unite the cultural radicals of the Haight, and the political radicals of Berkeley. Those plans led to the Human Be-In. In order to have maximum astrological impact, its organizers asked Arthur to determine the most auspicious date. Arthur determined that January 14, 1967, would have the greatest impact.”

“I had a flashback to the time I spent with Ginsberg in Cambridge, MA, in 1982, when he told me that I was part of an erotic lineage that connected me to Whitman … a quick Google search identifies Arthur as ”a certain astrologer and San Francisco character, Gavin Arthur … gave lectures at San Quentin while Neal was a prisoner.” Another entry reports that he studied astrology with Ronald Reagan before Reagan started his political career.”

“In 1958, he (Neal Cassady) was arrested after being caught using marijuana at a San Francisco nightclub. He was sentenced for two years at San Quentin State Prison.” This was when Mr. Arthur was teaching at San Quentin. Mr. Cassady mentions him in two letters to his wife Carolyn. (For those who just got here, Neal Cassady was the model for Dean Moriarty in On The Road. Mr. Cassady also drove the bus “Further,” for the Merry Pranksters.)

August 13, 1959 from San Quentin to Carolyn Cassady “Last Saturday, “Uncle Gavin” Arthur, grandson of our twenty-first President who, Republican though he was, could hardly have been more conservative than is Gain underneath all his Occult Astrology, failed to show (again, for the third time in six weeks) to teach our class in Comparative Religion and Philosophy, about three dozen regularly in attendance, on account of a death in his group at the Global House, which he bought by selling papers on Market Street for ten years; so again it was my pleasurable duty to instruct the boys in Cayce-hood [Edgar Cayce]”

Septetmber 22 1959 from San Quentin to Carolyn Cassady “Uncle” worry-wart [Gavin Arthur] missed showing up for the class again last week and I hear, probably unfounded, rumors that it is to be discontinued, too bad if true, because it was fun to hear the old geezer expound, without at all remembering he had, on the very same things week after week. I mean his examples, and their wording were always so alike one could not only anticipate, but, with any memory at all, give in advance the exact sentence he would be about to pronounce: it was sort of a game.” Eight years later, the “old geezer” described a 1924 tryst in clinical detail.

San Quentin broke Neal Cassady. The railroad would not take him back, and Carolyn divorced him. “He, however, felt now he had utterly failed in his mission, and he knew he could never go back. He died inside; only his body survived. This he did his best to destroy. He no longer believed in suicide, but he did all he could to be killed. … He told me he swallowed handfuls of pills anyone offered, even not knowing what they were. Is this not an obvious death-wish? He admitted it was.”

During this down and out time of his life, Neal Cassady apparently connected with Gavin Arthur. In a 1974 radio interview, Allen Ginsberg recalls “That was already the ’60’s, but there was that atmosphere back in San Francisco, around Gavin Arthur, particularly. Arthur was a great friend of Neal Cassady, slept with him all the time, or whenever Neal had nowhere to go he’d wind up in Gavin’s house, sort of falling asleep, exhausted, in his bed.”

The Neal Cassady to Allen Ginsberg connection is well documented.

“A second, serendipitous event further spurred (Joey) Cain’s interest in researching Gavin Arthur. Cain found a used copy of Carpenter’s “Towards Democracy” in a used bookstore for $3.00. It had a lot of writing in it. Cain noticed the following lament among the notes in the book, “This is one of my Bibles, please return. This volume is the third I have had to buy, people being so dishonest about books.” Then he looked below and saw Gavin Arthur’s signature and address. The writing belonged to Arthur. The book in his hand had once belonged to Gavin Arthur. He went up to the cashier who said, “It’s a shame about all this writing in it.” Cain replied, “Let me pay for it first, and then I’ll tell you about this writing.” Pictures today are from The Library of Congress.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: