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Walt Whitman to Peter Doyle, [16 January 1874]

 loc.01635.001.jpg Jan 74? 16th Jan 74

Well son, how do you make out this cold weather?—for I suppose you are having it there as we are here—we had quite a snow storm here three or four nights ago, & since then it has cleared off bitter cold,—(thermometer at 10 above, an hour ago, at our west door.)—Still I go out some, though very stiff—& lately some spells in my head rather bad & queer. What I have said in former letters about my general strength still holds good—otherwise I am in a bad way yet & dont consider myself out of the woods, have not been so well as usual the last week


If you come across the Weekly Graphic just out get it, as I have commenced a series of pieces about things just before & during the war.2 The series is to continue through four or five numbers. Get one for Mr & Mrs. Nash—Pete I rec'd the "Golden Grain"3—also the letter, Herald,—& Repub​ —send me one of the latter, occasionally—I had rather have it than any—(but you needn't put yourself out to get it)—As I write the sun is shining bright & clear as can be—the ground is white with snow in all directions, it is not melting anywhere—as I crossed the river yesterday toward dusk, the old fellow, the chargè of the ferry house, told me that between 12 & 2 o'clock the previous night over 30 persons crowded in there, poor houseless creatures, to keep from freezing to death—he keeps a great stove red-hot all night—some were young, some old, some evidently real respectable people—the orders are to not allow it, but he hadn't the heart to turn 'em out—God help the homeless & moneyless this weather—


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. The executors assigned this date, which is confirmed by the description of his health and his newspaper series. [back]
  • 2. "'Tis But Ten Years Since." [back]
  • 3. Timothy Shay Arthur's Golden Grains from Life's Harvest Field (1853) is a collection of awesomely sentimental anecdotes in awesome prose, the type of tritely "moral" work likely to appeal to Doyle: "Golden Grains from Life's Harvest Field, what are they but good and true principles, pure affections and human sympathies, gathered by the mind as it passes through its fields of labor? . . . A handful or two have we shaken from the full ears, and now present them to our readers. May the offering bear with it strength to the weak and the tempted, comfort to those who are in affliction, and good impulses to all." [back]
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