Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Peter Doyle, [30] September [1870]

Date: September 30, 1870

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01534

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:114–115. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

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

Friday afternoon, Sept. 29.1

Dear Son,

I am sitting here in my room, having just eat a hearty dinner with my mammy2, (who has this month entered on her 76th year,3 but to my eyes looks young & handsome yet.) It is a dark & cloudy day, & the rain is just now pouring down in torrents. It is a great disappointment to many, as Farragut's funeral celebration4 was to come off to–day, & all the military, & Departments here, & hundreds of societies, orders, schools &c. had prepared to turn out—& most of them did turn out, this forenoon, only to get soaked with rain, & covered with mud—I saw one crack battalion, all so spruce & handsome, with white pants, & silver gray coats, & every thing so bright & trim when they marched down—& an hour & a half afterwards, they looked like draggled roosters that had been pumped on—

We have had weeks and weeks of the very finest weather up to early this morning, & now it is the worst kind to be out in. Still we want rain so very much, one dont feel to complain.

Pete, I rec'd your last letter, the 26th—it was a good long, lively letter, & welcome—you write about the Signal Corps5—Allen6 deserves credit for persevering & studying—& I hope he will do well—& think he will too—for he is sober, & tries to get ahead—any how he is a young man I like—Thornett7 is a very intelligent manly fellow, cute, plucky, &c—he has one fault, & a bad one—that is he will drink, & spree it—which spoils all—True it is none of my business, but I feel that it would be perhaps the making of him, if he would give it up, & find his pleasure in some other way—Pete, should you see Allen again, give him my love—& the same for Thornett also—

Did you mean for me to write what I think of your joining the Signal Corps? But are you proficient enough in studies? I heartily advise you to peg away at the arithmetic—do something at it every day—arithmetic is the foundation of all such things—(just as a good stone wall is the foundation for a house)—become a good arithmetician first of all—& you surely will, if you keep pegging away a little every day—how much leisure you have after all, that might be used for study—I don't mean all your leisure, but say one hour out of every three—then keep looking over the geography—when I come back I will bring a little pocket dictionary—with 15 minutes writing every day, & correcting by the dictionary I would warrant you becoming a correct speller & real handsome writer in a year or less—& when one is a fair arithmetician & spells & writes finely, so many things are open to him.

As things stand at present I expect to be back by or before next Sunday.8



1. Walt Whitman intended to write "Sept. 30," which was Friday, the day of Farragut's funeral as described below. [back]

2. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was born September 22, 1795. [back]

4. The burial rites of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut (1801–1870) were held in New York on September 30, 1870. All business activity was suspended, and the ceremonies, according to the New York Times, "surpassed in their imposing character anything of the kind ever seen in this City, with the exception of the obsequies of the murdered President Lincoln." [back]

5. The Army Signal Corps manages information systems for the armed forces. It was established in 1860. [back]

6. Perhaps George Allen, mentioned in Whitman's August 22, 1873 letter to Doyle. [back]

7. Alfred Thornett, like Doyle, was a conductor; see Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #109. Evidently he later entered the Signal Corps, since in another address book (Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #108) Walt Whitman gave his address as "Obs. Sig. Serv. U. S. A., Mt. Washington, N. H." [back]

8. Walt Whitman later altered his plans; in his October 10, 1870 letter to William D. O'Connor, Whitman noted that he would not return to Washington until October 15, 1870. [back]


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