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Walt Whitman to Peter Doyle, [14–15 August 1873]

Aug 28 1873

Pete, dear son, I am not sinking nor getting worse—I have had some very bad times, & have some pretty bad ones yet, mostly with my head—& my leg is about as useless as ever—still I am decidedly no worse, & I think now I am even getting better—it is slow, & with great alternations—but I have the feeling of getting more strength, & easier in the head, more like myself—something like what I was before mother's death—I cannot be reconciled to that yet—it is the great  loc.01748.002.jpg cloud of my life—nothing that ever happened before has had such an effect on me—but I shall get well, yet, dear son, probably, (of course not certainly) and be back in Washington this fall, & we will be together again. I think I am now about as I was the day you came down to Baltimore depot with me, 20th May I think

Friday after dinner

I have thought of you the nights of this week, the heaviest rains here almost ever known, loc.01748.003.jpg—great trouble & loss to railroads—was you in any tight spot?—that described in your last made me feel a little nervous—That was a fearful disaster of the Wawasset2—sad beyond description—

So Tasistro is around yet—The Chronicle came—Mr. Eldridge has returned to Washington from his month's leave—he stopt here and paid me a 3 or 4 hours visit—John Burroughs has an article in the Sept.​ number of Scribner's Magazine,3 just out, in which I am extracted from—Pete, it is now towards 3, and I am going to try to  loc.01748.004.jpg get down to the ferry boat, & cross to Philadelphia—so you see I am not altogether disabled—but it is awful tough work—when the weather is cooler, (which will be soon) I shall be better off in Washington, as it is very lonesome to me here, & no one to convoy me—I shall return there—I want to get a couple of unfurnished rooms, or top floor, somewhere on or near the car route—Pete if you see Charley Toner,4 give him my love, & ask him to give you his address to send me—He works in the Printing Bureau (M'Cartee's)5 Treasury.

Good bye, my dear loving boy. Walt.

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. One of the executors, probably Richard Maurice Bucke, dated this letter "Aug 28, 1873." However, the reference to Eldridge in this letter would seem to be earlier than that in the letter of August 22. The probabilities are also that Whitman would have referred to the "Wawasset" disaster shortly after it occurred on August 8, though the investigation lasted from August 18 to 23. [back]
  • 2. The "Wawasset" was a river steamer which caught fire on August 8 on the Potomac River near Aquia Creek, with a frightful loss of life. The official investigation attributed the tragedy to dereliction of duty. [back]
  • 3. Burroughs is referring to "The Birds of the Poets," Scribner's Monthly 6 (1873), 565–574, in which he quoted at length from "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." [back]
  • 4. Towner (as Whitman meant to write) was a clerk in the Treasury Department; see Whitman's letter to Doyle of September 12, 1873. At one time Whitman wanted to lodge with the Towners. [back]
  • 5. George B. McCartee, general superintendent of the Treasury building. [back]
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