In an account read by Dr. William Tindall before the Columbia Historical Society on February 17, 1917, the relationship between Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle is described as following:
a typical manifestation of the unconscious deference which mediocrity pays to genius, and of the restfulness which genius sometimes finds in the companionship of an opposite type of mentality. The youthful grace of the conductor and the mature personality of the poet with iron-gray beard, slouch hat and rolling shirt collar that exposed a sturdy throat and enough of a broad chest to move with envy the modest young women of this day who affect the low-necked exposure, completed an ideal study in individual physical contrast.
Aside from hinting at a homosexual relationship between Doyle and Whitman, this passage suggests that Whitman lived vicariously through Doyle. Furthermore, the passage also highlights the mixing of the “highs” and “lows” of society that we have previously discussed in class that Whitman seemed to be fascinated with. Doyle’s occupation as a conductor of trains also stood out to me as significant. It is my belief that trains and the idea of modernity are inextricably linked. Just as Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is seemingly all encompassing, I believe the advent of railroads in the United States represents an attempt to expand the ideology of Americana further west. In this sense, Doyle may represent the common man leading the educated literary elite into modernity and inverts the supposed knowledge hierarchy: a reoccurring theme in the writings of Walt Whitman.