Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Peter Doyle, 31 May [1873]

Date: May 31, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01740

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Editorial note: The annotation, "1873," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Zachary King, Eric Conrad, Nicole Gray, and Kenneth M. Price

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May 31.

I expect to return Monday, June 2, bet. ½ past 5 & 6, but probably too late to see you that evening. Come up Tuesday. I am about the same as to my sickness—no worse.1


Peter Doyle (1843–1907) was one of Walt Whitman's closest comrades and lovers, and their friendship spanned nearly thirty years. The two met in 1865 when the twenty-one-year-old Doyle was a conductor in the horsecar where the forty-five-year-old Whitman was a passenger. Despite his status as a veteran of the Confederate Army, Doyle's uneducated, youthful nature appealed to Whitman. Although Whitman's stroke in 1873 and subsequent move from Washington to Camden limited the time the two could spend together, their relationship rekindled in the mid-1880s after Doyle moved to Philadelphia and visited nearby Camden frequently. After Whitman's death, Doyle permitted Richard Maurice Bucke to publish the letters Whitman had sent him. For more on Doyle and his relationship with Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Doyle, Peter," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. Whitman evidently returned to Washington on June 2, as planned. Unwell and depressed, he finally went to the home of the Ashtons, where he at least did not have to climb to the fourth floor. About June 16 he returned to Camden. [back]

2. At this point in the letter, Richard Maurice Bucke, one of Whitman's literary executors, wrote handwritten comments directly on Whitman's letter (later crossed out by a diagonal line): "He had left Washington some two weeks before this letter was written. Had been lying sick in that city, paralyzed, and 'Pete' had been in with him often, to wait on and assist him. His mother & brother George lived in Camden, he went there for a chance expedition to return to Washington. On Monday 23 June his mother died suddenly. It was a terrible shock and grief to him but it seems his physical state was not affected by it for the first week. On Saturday 31st he still expects to return to Washington almost at once. His letter of 9th June (wrongly dated 7th) shows that almost immediately after May 31—probably 1st or 2d June—he became so much worse that all thought of immediate return to W. had to be abandoned. He must have written 'Pete' at least once between 31 May and 9 June. Letter or letters lost." [back]


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