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Walt Whitman to Peter Doyle, 5 September [1873]

 loc.01749.001.jpg Dear boy Pete,

Your letter, with cheering wishes & prophecies came last Tuesday—God bless you, boy—for all such things help much—I had a bad spell this morning—have something of the kind pretty often—Still it seems certain I am improving, generally,—& that my general strength is better  loc.01749.002.jpgI am not near as bad as I was five weeks ago—have some hours in which I feel quite like myself again—Keep up good heart nearly all the time—& you must too, dear son.

—So I see Beau Hickman1 has died of a stroke of paralysis—in the paper this morning I see a piece about his body being resurrected from potter's field—

—Pete I see a collision of some trains on the B.​ & P.​ road reported in the tunnel at Baltimore yesterday morning early in which a brakeman named Hawkinson2 was instantly killed—


I was over to Philadelphia yesterday—there is a large reading room, the Mercantile Library, 10th st. where I go occasionally—it is quite handy—they have all the papers from every where—have the Wash.​ Chronicle Capital, &c.—Then I took a ride in the Market st. cars, & was caught in a violent rain at ½ past 7 coming home—the moment I got home, it stopt, & cleared off a beautiful moonlit night.—It is clear and pretty hot here to-day—I am sitting here in the front room in the same big old mahogany chair I gave mother 20 years ago, by the open window writing this—I am feeling better since breakfast.


Pete the papers you sent came last Monday all right—I have rec'd a letter from Chas Eldridge—& another from Walter Godey, the young man who is working for me as my substitute in the office—all was going on well in the office—I send a couple of papers to-day—nothing particular—send the Herald

Did I tell you that a doctor3 I have talked with here says my real disease is the brain not being properly furnished and nourished with blood—(it is a disease the doctors call cerebral anâemia)—the doctor says it has been long a-coming, & will be long a-going—says I will get over it though—says the paralysis comes from that, & that it (the paralysis) is not very 'formidable'—I am following Dr. Drinkard's advice, taking no medicine, living very carefully—


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. On September 1 the Washington Daily Morning Chronicle noted that Robert S. Hickman, about 49 years old, was close to death. Evidently Hickman had squandered a fortune of $40,000, had been disowned by his family, and was now impoverished. On the same day the New York Herald observed that Hickman "is known throughout the country by reputation and familiar to visitors to Washington for many years." He was interred in the potter's field on September 2. On the following day, after a subscription was raised among Washington businessmen to rebury the body in the Congressional Cemetery, it was discovered that the remains had been desecrated. On September 4 the headlines in the Chronicle read: "Ghouls. | Graveyard Hyenas. | Beau Hickman's Body Exhumed. | Horrible and Revolting Details." For Whitman's opinion of Hickman, see the letter from Whitman to Doyle of September 12, 1873. [back]
  • 2. The New York Tribune reported this accident on the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad, in which C. J. Hawkinson (not Hankinson) was crushed to death. [back]
  • 3. Dr. Matthew J. Grier; see the letter from Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor of September 5, 1873. [back]
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