Edward Anthony Beck (1848-1916)
E.A.Beck and Edward Carpenter were contemporaries and became close romantic friends whilst Carpenter was at Trinity Hall, spending much time together both as undergraduates and as fellows. Beck later went onto become Master of the college.
In his autobiography of 1916, Edward Carpenter writes:
‘One of the undergraduates of my own College with whom I made quite a friendship at this time was Edward Anthony Beck. He came up to Cambridge, a poor student from the country district of Castle Rising in Norfolk, on the shores of the Wash—he also with his head full of rhymes and verses, which he had written since he was a boy of eight or ten, to the wonderment and delight of his widower father, who prophesied in no uncertain tone, a nook in Westminster Abbey for his poet son. Beck was a bright, capable fellow, with a slight stoop, and a stammer, and a good-humoured way of laughing at his own oddities. He took the University by surprise by carrying off, in his first year, the prize poem on Dante...
He worked away at Classics, took a good first-class, and ultimately became a fellow and tutor of the College. He became a favorite in the general society of the younger dons and B.A.'s, on account of his brightness, naturalness and frankly avowed enjoyment of the good things of life.
At the time I mention he and I chummed together a good deal—indeed there was a touch of romance in our attachment—we compared literary notes, went abroad together once or twice, and after he was made a Fellow, had rooms adjoining each other, and spent many and many an evening in common.
But his vein of poetic feeling and romance, possibly too soon ripe, ran itself out, and he never carried on this line of production or published anything. His mind, perhaps from the same cause, took on a slightly cynical cast; he lapsed into the ordinary channels of lecturing and coaching, then married and had a large family, and so gave himself up to the work-a-day routine of College life.’
(My Days and Dreams, Edward Carpenter, Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1916 pp61-3)
Charles Oates was a fellow student of Trinity Hall. The friendship and correspondence, begun at Cambridge, continued until Oates death in 1891 – Oates becoming perhaps the chief confident for Carpenter’s feelings. These early letters of growing friendship show the ideals and struggles of two homosexual young men, and witness some of the major events of Carpenter’s years at Cambridge.
Letters from Edward Carpenter to Charles Oates:
(The first letter from Carpenter to Oates that has been preserved)
Trinity Hall Sep.12. 1869
I felt & feel that I could not allow all your kind expressions to pass without offering a determined resistance. In fact if you have any one to thank, it must be yourself quite as much as me; for, as you very well know, sympathy requires two persons at least, and I am only one. I have often thought of you and our conversation, while I have been away; and ever with the increasing conviction that anything which raises our deepest feelings cannot be a mere shadow; must, more than anything else we know, have a real existence; and therefore be unperishing and imperishable, ultraphenomenal, in fact (to plunge boldly into metaphysics) –
To me all scenes of Nature bring ultimately the same feeling; There is a deep unity underlying all the diversity of their beauty – And equally do I believe it true that there is a spirit of what is noble and beautiful passing through all men alike, inspiring alike all their wonderfully distinct personalities. Therefore even if the individual admiration be perishable in its accidents it cannot be so in essence. Hence Tennyson’s ‘Tis better’¹ & c. – After many days we find it again. You see that I make a medley of Kant, Comte, and Christianity. Please forgive and excuse all this, for I am afraid it is very unprofitable. I have been preaching and have consequently got into voluble habits. I leave Cambridge tomorrow & come back again on the 1st Oct to begin my curacy at S.Edward’s. Hayes tells me he is going to pay you a visit. Believe me
Yours very sincerely Edward Carpenter
- ‘’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’ Tennyson In Memoriam A.H.H. XXVII
(Carpenter Collection MSS. 351.1)
Dec.19 1870 17 Queen’s Gate Gardens S.W.
My dear Oates
I thank you most heartily for your present. I am sure you need not fear about it reminding me of you; It reminded me very quickly on seeing it of your considerateness in finding out what I liked. I certainly like the picture very much & even Turner is not the worse for being very well framed.
You may have wondered at my delay in answering; but yesterday I had (worse luck) two sermons to preach, besides schools to examine, so that I felt in the last stage of universal misanthropy & depression. Fortunately in the evening Old & Winthrop & Beck came to my room & after having set up a devil’s tattoo by way of cheering me at last soothed my spirits by reading poetry...
I fear that coming to Cambridge is not altogether without a bitter to you, the sweet withal. I think you have two sides to your existence (every one has I suppose in a way) the one – you live in Duke Street & digest law & perform the usual functions of life (breathing excepted); the other – you spend in an ideal world, wh. to you has become a reality; there are very few men I am sure to whom it does become such a reality & yet it ought to be so to everyone. I have just been reading a translation of Plato’s Phaedrus – that is the essence of what you dream of – do read it; some parts of course include a different view of society to ours, but that does not affect the beautiful idealism of the whole – or rather enhances it.
Goodbye, yours affectionately, Edward Carpenter
(Carpenter Collection MSS. 351.2)
Sept 5 1871 45, Brunswick Square, Brighton
My dear Oates
I came home a few days ago and your note soon after greeted my eye among a bundle of letters... Written as it was two or three months past I feel that it is perhaps unfair - & indeed unsafe for me – to take you in the same spirit now. You may have married! Or become a positivist or a mysticist - or a thousand things – since. And then you might bite. But it makes me regret all the more that I did not write to you while I was abroad, as I so often intended to do... I suppose you have heard that Beck & I went together; as you may imagine we enjoyed ourselves enormously; I certainly never realised before the possibility of travelling being so delightful. We expatiated among the flowers & snow of Switzerland; & dreamed of symphonies of colour amid the Italian lakes; & melted with astonishment and heat at Milan; and lived a long time ago at Venice; and went up to heaven in an incense cloud of art at Munich.
And I wanted especially to tell you - we went to Lugano... Royds¹ grave is very simple & nice; and as we stood there they pointed out the scarped mountain cliffs where he fell; But it is not the fall, nor even death that fills us with sad thoughts, but, as you have said in all you have ever written to me it is the half-inarticulate dread, it is the scarcely-confessed nightmare dream of divided love; --- of hopeless, impossible love. Yet I am sure such a simple, pure life as Royds ought to give us courage. It is impossible that any evil could happen to him. We are too half hearted & I always feel it is in my worst moments that I entertain such evil humours. I must confess that, except for the few days after Beck left me before I came home, I never have felt so happy on these matters before; & after the Beethoven musical festival at Bonn I was positively triumphant.
There is nothing so glorious as music. It gives me more positive life, more belief, hope & happiness than anything else in the world. And Beethoven! The very contact with his kingly mind raises me. Yet I am afraid that my experiences wont help you.... You must not despair! you must really not. I wonder where you are now... I wonder if you are likely to be anywhere near – it would be very jolly if we could sit out on the beach together – I know when you are at Cambridge you are swallowed up by friends & I can only give you a stray good morning & get the same in return.
Farewell – the post is waiting Yours affectionately Edward Carpenter (
- Edward Royds was a former student of Trinity Hall who fell to his death from the heights of Monte San Salvatore – C. Tsuzuki: Edward Carpenter Prophet of Human Fellowship 1980, Cambridge university Press: p19
(Carpenter Collection MSS, 351.3)
Nov. 15 ’71 Trin. Hall. Cambridge
I wish you would answer my letters. What has become of you? Some people speculate that you are going to be married, but I am inclined to think that too good to be true. You must write & let me know about yourself; I do not want you to disappear into the cold outer space without leaving some sign or symbol. Is it true that you are thinking of going abroad and, if so, couldn’t you show up here for a little time beforehand?
I have made the acquaintance of a man who often strikes me as like you; he has very quick affections & warm feelings & often feels lonely enough up here in this somewhat chilly atmosphere & then he gets fits of extreme depression, which I am afraid is like you too, and cannot push them off for a long time & passes sleepless nights & unprofitable days. It seems too bad that people should be tormented by such insubstantial devils.
I often think what fools we are not to league ourselves together by closer bonds of friendship against such evil onslaught (for all the devils in the world would vanish – for me – if I had but one person to help me against them) but as it is we live in a powdery granular state of society where no man is organically connected with others, but each man has to draw his own life & support from no one (as you delight to say) but himself; and so the weight of the world is many times trebled.
I cannot write more now farewell, ever yours Edward Carpenter
(Carpenter Collection MSS. 351.4)
Trinity Hall Feb.4 1872
I can only write you a line. Thank you a thousand times for sending me those lines. Sad as they make me feel in one sense, that you should have to recourse to so poor a thing as the memory of me; still I cannot but be glad that I was destined to be of service to you, but you will understand my meaning I hope better from what I felt constrained to write in answer on the opp. page. I hope your journey will be successful. Let me hear from you when you are anything like settled.
ever yours E Carpenter
(Carpenter Collection MSS. 351.5)
45 Brunswick Sq Brighton Dec 30 ‘72
It was out of the question for me to answer your letter when it arrived – knee deep as I was in oyster soup & champagne. But enough of that... Sufficient that it is past and need never be remembered. For the very thought of that life makes me tremble. O God! that one should ever waste the beautiful hours in gluttony, lewd conversation or business!
How beautiful the world is! I feel at this moment like one awaking from a long illness. The pure white light over the sea, the sky, and even the long rows of houses fill me with a delicious sense of space & liberty. Yet I feel weak, not an actor yet in the scene but only a spectator. Thank heaven I have leave till October, nine months – a boundless time – the time of the birth of a living soul: and to me it is prophetic.
All about myself, yet I am sure you will forgive me: it is the privilege of friendship. The answer to your letter must be myself...
(Carpenter Collection MSS. 351.7)
Trinity Hall, June 13 ‘73
My dear Oates
Your note comes just opportunely... I have just this instant arrived & in a moment I shall have to go & see the Master about my resigning Orders. He is in a dreadful way: and the meeting comes on tomorrow!
(Carpenter Collection MSS. 351.12)
Trinity Hall Cambridge Dec 8 ‘73
My dear Oates
Here I am. I write now to ask whether you will come up for our Christmas festivities; at any rate for a part of the time, if you think that your digestion will not suffer you to swallow the whole. Do come... it may be my last opportunity. It is rather unlikely that I shall survive another Christmas as fellow; so if you don’t come now, you will perhaps never eat swan with me.
I am thinking of coming to Leeds as a Lecturer!... I am bent on taking some work of this kind in large towns and I have promises for October, and it may be Leeds you now – which would be grand. (Leed’s being Oates’ home –ed.)
(Carpenter Collection MSS. 351.15)
Brighton Feb 2 ‘74
I think In Memoriam very fine, by far the best thing of Tennyson’s. Just as Adonais is one of the best of Shelley’s & Lysidas of Milton’s. Add to these Shakespeare’s Sonnets; and you have a fine memorial of what people call friendship.
(Carpenter Collection MSS. 351.16)
Trin Hall Cam. Monday 20 July ‘74
What do you think? I wrote to Walt Whitman the other day – a long letter at 4a.m.. The birds were cheeping so cannily – I couldn’t help it: and I wanted to tell him how things are in England & that he has readers. Farewell your affectionate E.C.
(Carpenter Collection MSS. 351.17)
45 Brunswick Sq Brighton 30 Dec ’74
What do you think? I cut off the beard yesterday: I had a good mind to send it you, I thought you would be pleased. I look irreproachably respectable: in fact (O irony of truth!) my little nephew shouted out “O doesn’t he look like the shopman” at the first sight of my complacent chin.
This morning was Beck’s wedding. I have just come back – a sadder & wiser man. Indeed I feel older than fate itself. The bride looked very happy. She has a trustful affectionate face; and if he were to tire of her & grow cold, she would wonder but she would not doubt – only be sad and go look after her babies. But he will not tire of her I think... They drove off from the door with our best wishes but without their boxes! for which they had to return. So do we halt between earth & heaven!
With best wishes ever your affectionate Chips
(Carpenter Collection MSS. 351.18)
All letters used by the kind permission of the Sheffield City Archives, Edward Carpenter Collection.
Photograph of E.A.Beck: from Sheffield City Archives, Carpenter Collection Ref. 9/7 – by kind permission.
Photograph of Charles Oates from Sheffield City Archives, Carpenter Collection Ref. 9/98 – by kind permission
Photograph of Group at Cambridge from Sheffield City Archives Ref.9/163- by kind permission.