Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to Peter Doyle, 3–5 August [1870]

Dear Pete,

Dear son, I received your second letter to–day, also the Star. I sent you a letter Tuesday evening, which I suppose you have received. As I am now sitting in my room & have no desire to go to bed yet, I will commence another. Give my best respects to George Smith2—also to Pensey Bell & his brother George3—also to Mr. Shedd4—and in fact to all my railroad friends, whenever they inquire after me—

Dear son, I can almost see you drowsing & nodding since last Sunday, going home late—especially as we wait there at 7th st. and I am telling you something deep about the heavenly bodies—& in the midst of it I look around & find you fast asleep, & your head on my shoulder like a chunk of wood—an awful compliment to my lecturing powers. All the talk here now is either the war on the Rhine,5 or the murder of old Mr. Nathan,6 or some other murder—for there are plenty of them—I send you a couple of papers with pieces about them. Say whether they come safe.

I believe that is all for to–night, as it is getting late—Good night, Pete—Good night, my darling son—here is a kiss for you, dear boy—on the paper here—a good long one—

Thursday—4th—I have been out all the forenoon & until about 2 o'clock—had some business in New York, which I attended, then came back & spent an hour & a half on the river, with one of the pilots, a particular friend of mine—saw the yachts, several of them, including the America out practising, for the great race that comes off Monday7—the Dauntless was out yesterday—& the Cambria went down three days ago—the America is the handsomest little craft I ever laid eyes on—I also saw Henry Ward Beecher8 & had some talk with him—I find myself going with the pilots muchly—there are several that were little boys, now grown up, & remember me well—fine hearty fellows—always around the water—sons of old pilots—they make much of me—& of course I am willing—

10 o'clock at night—As this is lying here on my table to be sent off tomorrow, I will imagine you with your arm around my neck saying Good night, Walt—& me—Good night, Pete—

Friday morning Aug 5. All well—fine weather & I feel in good spirits—I am just going out, & across to New York.


We had a heavy shower here yesterday afternoon, 4th—the weather is not too hot here.


  • 1. The envelope is addressed "Peter Doyle, | conductor, | Office | Wash. & Georgetown City RR. Co. | Washington, | D. C." It is postmarked "New-York | Aug | 5 | 130 P.M. [back]
  • 2. The 1869 Washington Directory listed George S. Smith, a driver. In an entry dated October 13, 1868, in an address book (Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #108), Walt Whitman referred to Smith as a driver on the Fifth Avenue "stage" in New York. [back]
  • 3. The 1869 Directory listed at the same address George A. Bell, a conductor, and Horace Bell, a messenger. [back]
  • 4. Henry Shedd, the driver of the streetcar (#14) on which Doyle was the conductor. [back]
  • 5. The New York Times of August 3, 1870, reported the "first battle" of the Franco-Prussian War, the capture of Saarbruck by the French. [back]
  • 6. According to the New York Times, Benjamin Nathan, a wealthy broker and one of the founders of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, was murdered in his home on July 29, 1870. For days the newspaper carried lengthy accounts of the unsolved murder. [back]
  • 7. The Queen's Cup Race was held off Staten Island on August 8, 1870. The Dauntless finished second, the America fourth, and the Cambria eighth. On August 9, 1870, the New York Times observed: "The contest was probably attended by more public and wide-spread enthusiasm than any American sporting event that has ever occurred, either on land or water." [back]
  • 8. Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887), Congregational clergyman and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, accepted the pastorate of the Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, in 1847. Walt Whitman described him briefly in the Brooklyn Daily Advertiser of May 25, 1850, reprinted in The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, ed. Emory Holloway, 1:234–235. See also Walt Whitman, Emory Holloway, and Vernolian Schwarz, I Sit and Look Out: Editorials from the Brooklyn Daily Times (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955) 84–85, and Horace Traubel, ed., With Walt Whitman in Camden, 1:137–138. His father, Lyman Beecher (1775–1863), was also a clergyman, who upon his retirement lived with his son in Brooklyn. [back]
Back to top