It was soon after Edward Carpenter moved to Millthorpe, near Sheffield, in 1882 that he began work on a long-form poem that he hoped would express his developing thoughts on the human condition. “I have about finished what I am writing at present,” he wrote Walt Whitman in March 1882. “It is in paragraphs, some short (half a line or so), some long in the ordinary prose form though poetical in character…I have thought for some time of calling it Towards Democracy and I do not see any reason for altering the title – though the word Democracy does not often occur in it.”
Originally published at his own expense, it slowly gathered an enthusiastic following, so Sheila Rowbotham describes, “among soicalists, sexual rebels and spiritual searchers.” Carpenter was wrote Edward Aveling, the British Walt Whitman.
Well known in his day, Carpenter is obscure today, and it is not possible to buy a new copy of Towards Democracy in bookshops. In comparison, one can walk into Waterstone’s in Sheffield and buy a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. By reprinting Towards Democracy, Millthorpe Press is not only reviving interest in Edward Carpenter, but in Sheffield’s radical past.