Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Peter Doyle, 6 September 1870

Date: September 6, 1870

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:109–110. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01530

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad




Brooklyn,
September 6th 1870.1

Dear son,

I see by your letter of the 4th that you are working as usual. I sometimes fancy I see you—and 14—and Mr. Shedd2—going up or down the Avenue—or at the end at Georgetown—or Navy Yard—the old familiar route & scenes—the Circle, the President's House—Willard's—7th street—Capitol Gate—the Hill—&c. &c. &c.

I keep pretty busy, writing, proof–reading, &c. I am at the printing office several hours every day—I feel in capital health & spirits—weigh several pounds heavier—but, as a small drawback, & something new for me, find myself needing glasses every time I read or write—this has grown upon me very rapidly since & during the hot weather, & especially since I left Washington—so I read & write as little as possible, beyond my printing matters, &c—as that occupies several hours, & tires my eyes sometimes.

We are having splendid fall weather, both days & nights. Last night I was out late—the scene on the river was heavenly—the sky clear, & the moon shining her brightest—I felt almost chilly at last with the cold—& so put for home. One of the prettiest sights now is to see the great German steamers, and other ships, as they lay tied up along shore, all covered with gay flags & streamers—"dress ship" as they call it—flaunting out in the breeze, under a brilliant sky & sun—all in honor, of course, of the victory of the German armies3—all the spars & rigging are hid with hundreds & hundreds of flags—a big red–white–& black flag capping all—

Of course you may know that the way the war4 turns out suits me to death—Louis Napoleon fully deserves his fate—I consider him by far the meanest scoundrel (with all his smartness) that ever sat on a throne. I make a distinction however—I admire & love the French, & France as a nation—of all foreign nations, she has my sympathy first of all.5

Pete, I was just reading over your last letter again. Dear son, you must try to keep up a good heart. You say you do—but I am afraid you are feeling, (or have felt,) somewhat unhappy. One soon falls into the habit of getting low spirited or deprest & moody—if a man allows himself, he will always find plenty to make him so—Every one [has] his troubles, disappointments, rebuffs, &c. especially every young & proud-spirited man who has to work for his living. But I want you to try & put a brave face against every thing that happens—for it is not so much the little misfortunes of life themselves, as the way we take them & brood over them, that causes the trouble.

About the "tiresome,"6 all I have to say is—to say nothing—only a good smacking kiss, & many of them—& taking in return many, many, many, from my dear son—good loving ones too—which will do more credit to his lips than growling & complaining at his father.


Walt


Notes:

1. This piece of correspondence is addressed, "Peter Doyle | conductor, | Office | Wash. & Georgetown City RR. Co. | Washington | D. C." It is postmarked: "New-York | Sep | 6 | (?)." [back]

2. Henry Shedd, the driver of the streetcar (#14) on which Doyle was the conductor. [back]

3. Napoleon III was deposed and the French army surrendered on September 2, 1870. [back]

4. Instigated by growing tensions between France and Prussia preceding a vacancy on the Spanish throne, the Franco-Prussian War (July 1870–May 1871) ended in complete Prussian victory and facilitated the unification of Germany, whose previously unaffiliated states had allied with Prussia. In the New York Evening Mail on October 27, 1870, the Washington correspondent reported: "At the commencement of the present war in Europe [Walt Whitman] was strongly German, but is now the ardent friend of the French, and enthusiastically supports them and their Republic" (Charles I. Glicksberg, Walt Whitman and the Civil War [1933], 116n.). Note also "O Star of France." [back]

5. For Walt Whitman's changing attitude toward the Franco-Prussian war, see his September 15–16, 1870 letter to Doyle. In the New York Evening Mail on October 27, 1870, the Washington correspondent reported: "At the commencement of the present war in Europe [Walt Whitman] was strongly German, but is now the ardent friend of the French, and enthusiastically supports them and their Republic" (Charles I. Glicksberg, Walt Whitman and the Civil War [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933], 116n). Note also "O Star of France." [back]

6. Since Doyle's letters to Walt Whitman in 1870 are lost, it is impossible to explain this paragraph. [back]


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