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Walt Whitman to Peter Doyle, 22 August [1873]

 loc.01747.001.jpg 1873 1873 or '4 Dear son,

I rec'd​ your letter of last Saturday & Sunday—& was interested in reading all the particulars you wrote about the RR. &c, and the young man, your friend the fireman1—poor fellow, it was indeed a sad fate—There has been great washing away & trouble with RR. tracks hereabout too—for myself I never remember an August with so much rain—Write to me whether your road has repaired damages, & is running through again—also every thing you think of & see about people & Washington &c. that would interest me—as I live a very quiet life here.

I am still about the same as when I last wrote—am no worse, & not much better—though I perceive my general strength is at least as good as any time since I have been sick—My head still troubles me with pain & distress a good deal of the time—I hobble out a little every day when not prevented by the rain—& console myself with thinking that every thing with me might be a great deal worse—I can put up with all but the death of my mother—that is my great sorrow that sticks—affects me just as much now, or more, than at the time.


Have you seen Mr. Eldridge since his return to Washington?—Have you seen any thing of Mr. O'Connor?—(You know he is now Chief Clerk of the Light House Board)—You must have had a sweet time with Dr. Duncan and Dr. Blake,2 (though I must confess I rather like the latter,—I suspect he has some real good points)—Sometimes, when one has plenty of time, I think it very good, for a change, to let such fellows buzz you to their heart's content, when you fall in with them—think of them as acting a part for your amusement—how well they do it—if they could only do it on the stage, it would make their fortune—So Mr. Tasistro still lives—he deserves credit for his perseverance & vitality—I hope he will come to the top of the heap yet—

—I cut out the piece below from a Philadelphia paper, thinking it might interest you—As is I sit here in my arm chair, finishing this, it is 3 o'clock Friday afternoon, it clouds up again as if for rain—we had a shower last night—it was quite cool, but has been pretty warm here for two days, & is now—I am feeling as if I would & should come out all right yet—had a nice dinner—Pete, dear son, send me the Sunday Herald Aug​ 24—dont forget—

So long, dear son. Walt.

THE BREAK ON THE BALTIMORE RAILROAD—The repairs to the break on the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, by the washing out of the culvert over the Christiana Creek, below Newark, Del.​ , will soon be completed. On Saturday, all the trains passed over with the locomotives attached to them. The following incident, in connection with this break, is stated by the Elkton Democrat to have occurred on the night of the storm: "An engineer upon an engine moving slowly along without a train had detected the crumbling culvert and knowing that a freight train north was due about that time, hurried his fireman, a youth from Havre-de-Grace, over the remains of the culvert, to signal the approaching freight train. Away ran the boy with all his speed, and nearing the train, he began to wave an improvised signal. But darkness was gathering thickly, the rain falling with blinding intensity, and the engineer of the coming train could not see the signal till he was about passing the boy, and then the grade was descending. Whistling "down brakes," he immediately reversed his engine, and did everything possible to stop before reaching the dead fall, but it was evident to him that the engine would not stop before it was on the bridge, and just as he approached it he stepped off. Sure enough the engine, notwithstanding its backward motion, was pushed to the bridge and on it, and the engineer saw his struggling iron horse begin to sink slowly down. The engine pressed down the crumbling track at least two feet, and then, as if with superhuman effort and consciousness of peril, it gave the train a hard knock back, and, to the amazement of the engineer, began to recede from the chasm. He watched it a moment, doubting his senses, then, finding that it would escape, he mounted it again and backed the train to Elkton, having made probably the narrowest escape in the history of railroading from a total wreck."

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. According to the Washington Daily Morning Chronicle of August 14, George Allen, a fireman on the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad, had had his leg crushed in an accident near Baltimore, and had died on the previous day. [back]
  • 2. Dr. J. M. Duncan and Dr. E. Tucker Blake. [back]
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