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Walt Whitman to Peter Doyle, 21–23 June 1871

 loc.01535.001_large.jpg Dear Pete,

I arrived home last night between 11 and 12, all safe & sound—found mother1 up, waiting for me—It was dark & stormy, as rain had set in about 9—had quite a pleasant journey—took a chair in the reserved seat car, 50 cts extra—plenty of room & a very easy riding car—thought while I was sitting up here now in my room wait'g for dinner I would write a line to boy Pete—


Thursday forenoon

The weather is very fine now here—plenty cool enough—I went over to New York yesterday afternoon & evening—took a ride up & down Broadway—am now laying off & taking it easy in my room—find it very pleasant here—fall just as natural into habits of doing nothing—lie on the sofa & read the papers—come up punctually to my meals—sleep a great deal—& take every thing very quietly—


Friday—Pete I will finish this scribbling letter, & send it off, so you will get it for Sunday—I am feeling well & enjoying myself doing nothing, spending a great deal of time with my mother, & going out a few hours every day on the river or over to New York—I hope you are feeling  loc.01535.004_large.jpg all right, & that every thing is lovely—I believe that is all this time—

Love to you dear son, & you must keep a good heart through all the tribulations & botherations, not only of railroading but life generally

I find that Foster the "car assassin,"2 is an old driver & conductor that I knew quite well—he was a very good man, very respectable, only a fool when drunk—it is the saddest case I know. He has three fine children—the public is down upon him savage—& I suppose no hope for him.


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. 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]
  • 2. On April 26, 1871, William Foster (1837–1873), a former New York conductor, accosted a woman and her daughter in a street car, and was rebuked by their companion, Avery D. Putnam. When Putnam got off, Foster, who was drunk, killed him with a carhook. The murder was reported in the New York Times on April 28, 1871. Pete Calhoun, one of Whitman's friends, was the driver of the car. Because of appeals for commutation, including one from Putnam's widow, Foster was not hanged until March 21, 1873. On March 21 and 22 the New York Daily Graphic devoted pages to pictures and stories of Foster's last hours. [back]
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