Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Last Loyalist, The" (1842)
Author:
McGuire, Patrick
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

This short story was first published as "The Child-Ghost; a Story of the Last Loyalist" in United States Magazine and Democratic Review, May 1842. After revisions—mostly cutting—it appeared as "The Last Loyalist" in Specimen Days & Collect (1882). For publication details and revisions, see Thomas L. Brasher's edition of The Early Poems and the Fiction.

This ghost story has a historical setting. The evil Vanhome is a loyalist during the American Revolutionary War. Before the war, his brother's orphan becomes his ward and dies within two years. During the war, Vanhome joins the British military and earns a reputation for cruelty to enemy soldiers and civilians alike. Near the war's end, he visits the family estate, which is soon to be confiscated by the new American government. While there, he encounters the Gills, an old poverty-stricken couple who have become tenants on the estate. Unaware who his visitor is, old man Gills talks about the previous owner—Vanhome himself, a man who beat to death the little boy under his care. Vanhome is given for the night the very room the boy died in. The ghost of the boy comes and terrifies him so that he flees to the last British ship embarking from America.

Like Lugare in "Death in the School-Room (a Fact)" (1841), Vanhome is a sadistic man, and he is like Adam Covert in "One Wicked Impulse!" (1845) in that he allows his own greed to interfere with his duties to his ward. But "The Last Loyalist" seems to offer a compromise to the solutions of those two stories. Lugare is meted no punishment, and Covert is killed. Vanhome lives, having been terrified, humiliated, and exiled.

This work has received little critical attention.

Bibliography

Whitman, Walt The Early Poems and the Fiction. 1963. Ed. Thomas L. Brasher. New York: New York UP, 1963.


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