In a 1907 letter to Walt Whitman’s biographer Bliss Perry, Edmund Gosse wrote:

I came across your really delightful volume on Walt Whitman,† and read it with such pleasure that I had to review it also, to try and share my pleasure with others. But I don’t believe in those “children”! For reasons, of course, precisely opposite to those put forward by the servers of pillows to all armholes. The real psychology of W W would be enormously interesting. I think the keynote to it would be found to be a staggering ignorance, a perhaps wilful non-perception, of the real physical conditions of his nature. But the truth about him (the innermost truth) escapes from almost every page for those who can read.

Edmund Gosse (6th March 1907). Letter to Professor Bliss Perry. In Evan Charteris, ed. (1931). The Life and Letters of Sir Edmund Gosse, p. 302. London: Heinemann.

Walt Whitman (1906).

The “children” in which Gosse did not believe are the “six children” that Whitman claimed to have fathered, in an 1890 letter to John Addington Symonds quoted by Bliss. Gosse presumably did not believe in them because he knew, or suspected, that Whitman was gay. But what did Gosse mean by “precisely opposite to those put forward by the servers of pillows to all armholes”? This is an allusion to Ezekiel 13:18:

Woe to the women that sew pillows to all armholes, and make kerchiefs upon the head of every stature to hunt souls!

(I suspect that Gosse actually wrote “sewers” and whoever transcribed the letter mis-read the word as “servers”.) But what is the connection between Gosse’s belief in Whitman’s homosexuality and Ezekiel’s criticism of fashionable clothing?

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