Title: Introduction to Franklin Evans and "Fortunes of a Country-Boy"
Authors: Stephanie Blalock and Nicole Gray
Publication information: Written for the Walt Whitman Archive. First published on the Archive in 2015.
Whitman Archive ID: anc.02072
Some readers will likely be surprised to learn that before Walt Whitman published the first edition of Leaves of Grass, in 1855, and well before he earned a reputation as "America's poet," he was primarily known to 1840s newspaper readers as Walter Whitman, a young upstart journalist and fiction writer who could often be seen sporting a boutonniere and a walking cane as he entered the offices of the Aurora and the Statesman, among other New York City newspapers that employed him during this period. Between 1841 and 1848, Whitman published at least 23 short stories, a serialized novel titled Life and Adventures of Jack Engle: An Auto-Biography, and what is perhaps best described as a potboiler temperance novel titled Franklin Evans, or The Inebriate: A Tale of the Times.1 All of Whitman's fiction was originally published in New York periodicals. Franklin Evans follows the adventures of the title character as the young man moves from rural Long Island to New York City and experiences the pleasures, the dangers, and the consequences of the boarding house, the business house, and, most significantly, the musical drinking house. Unaccustomed to city life, Evans meets a group of young men his own age and is introduced to strong drink, which leads to his downfall, including a loss of employment and the end of both his marriages. It is only at the conclusion of the novel that Evans, through the assistance of a benefactor, signs a pledge promising total abstinence from alcohol, whereupon the young man is presumably reformed from that moment forward, at least according to the narrative of his experience, as he relates it.
Responses to Whitman's Franklin Evans from the time of its publication until today could not be more different. According to Thomas Brasher, editor of The Early Poems and Fiction, a volume of The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman, an announcement for the novel that appeared in The New World on November 22, 1842—the day before Franklin Evans was issued as an extra edition of that very paper—claimed that the "incidents of the plot are wrought out with great effect."2 On November 30, 1842, The New-York Spectator mentioned the publication of the novel, calling it "a thrilling romance of the present times, and cannot fail to deeply interest the reader." Fifty-six years later, in 1898, the New York Sun printed Thomas Harned's opinion of the novel: "It is about the most dismal, prosy bit of sermonizing and bad tragedy that I have ever seen." In a 1907 article in the same paper, a writer with the initials M. W. H. called Franklin Evans "an ill told rambling story that no one in these days would think of treating seriously." Michael Warner has explained that those encountering Franklin Evans as a novel today "often find it unsatisfactory"—much like the Sun writers who commented on it near the turn-of-the-century. Warner goes on to suggest that this is because Franklin Evans addressed "publics" that would have come to the text with an understanding of nineteenth-century temperance movements (30). Nineteenth-century readers also may have had some familiarity with Whitman as both a journalist and a fiction writer. This introduction, then, attempts to orient contemporary readers to the novel, by looking, first, at Franklin Evans, and later at its reprintings in the contexts of temperance reform, Whitman's fiction career, and twentieth- and twenty-first-century literary criticism.
Frances Winwar asserts that in 1842, Park Benjamin, the editor of The New World and a temperance advocate, requested that Whitman write "a short novel for a worthy cause" (73). Whitman's Franklin Evans, or the Inebriate; A Tale of the Times was first published in Benjamin's and publisher J. Winchester's newspaper, The New World. In 1888, just four years before his death, Whitman explained to his friend and biographer Horace Traubel how he came to write Franklin Evans. Reflecting on the novel he composed at the age of twenty-three, Whitman stated, "I set to work at once ardently on it (with the help of a bottle of port) . . . In three days of constant work I finished the book" (1:93).3 This was not the first time Whitman insisted that intemperance inspired the novel's sobering principles. Whitman's friend J. G. Schumaker told the New York Tribune Whitman confided that he had written the novel "mostly in the reading room of Tammany Hall, which was a sort of Bohemian resort." According to Schumaker, the poet claimed he had "frequently indulged in gin cocktails while writing it, at the 'Pewter Mug,' another resort for Bohemians around the corner in Spruce Street."4
Charles Eldridge, from the publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, which published Whitman's 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, provided a slightly different account of the origins of Franklin Evans. Writing to Whitman disciple John Burroughs, Eldridge related how the poet once told him the inspiration for the novel was "relays of strong whiskey cocktails, in order to keep the printer's devil, who was waiting, supplied with copy."5 As Brasher has pointed out, even if the whiskey increased his literary production, Whitman would have had to supply some 20,000 words per day in order to finish the novel in this period (125). Late in Whitman's life, in conversation with Traubel, the poet said he had written Franklin Evans only because the "offer of cash payment was so tempting—I was hard up at the time." He went on to express his feelings about the novel in no uncertain terms: "It was damned rot—rot of the worst sort—not insincere perhaps, but rot, nevertheless" (1:93).
Whitman issued a similar disclaimer about the short fiction he published in the 1840s; in an introductory note to Collect, he recalled the stories he had written approximately fifty years earlier, when, according to the poet, "I tried my 'prentice hand at recording—(I was then quite an 'abolitionist' and advocate of the 'temperance' and 'anti-capital-punishment' causes)." Regardless of whether alcohol actually provided the stimulus for the composition of Franklin Evans, part of the hesitancy to take the novel "seriously," as the Sun put it, is the notion that Whitman went to such great lengths on so many occasions to distance himself from it—to establish that he wrote it very quickly alongside his short fiction in his "'prentice days," and only then because he needed the extra income the novel's publication would bring (Traubel 1:93). But rot or not, Franklin Evans, with its "not insincere" temperance message, was incredibly popular among nineteenth-century readers; the novel was said to have sold around 20,000 copies. Whitman reported receiving seventy-five dollars in payment, and, later, he was paid an additional fifty dollars because it garnered such high sales figures (Traubel 2:323).6 This sum must have seemed considerable when compared to what The Democratic Review paid new or inexperienced authors. In 1843, The Dollar Newspaper (Philadelphia, PA) criticized the Democratic Review, one of the nation's most prestigious literary magazines, for only paying five dollars to Whitman for his two most popular short stories, "Death in the School-Room" and "A Legend of Life and Love," both of which were reprinted in newspapers and magazines across the country.
The popularity of Franklin Evans and the number of copies sold might be attributed to several factors, including the inexpensive format of the published novel and the announcements and previews of the story that appeared in the weeks prior to its publication. The novel was published as part of The New World's extra series on November 23, 1842. This extra issue was an octavo pamphlet, and the entire issue was devoted to the novel. The pamphlet was approximately thirty pages in length and, as The New York Spectator described it, the novel consisted of "double columns and fair-sized type." Each pamphlet cost readers 12½ cents, or readers and distributors could buy the novel in bulk at rates of 10 copies for $1 or 100 for $8. In the introduction to the novel, Whitman himself not only wrote that the book was "written for the mass," but also that since the novel was being issued in "the cheap and popular form," it could and should be "wafted by every mail to all parts of this vast republic." On November 24, 1842, a writer for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle pointed out to the paper's readers that the price of Franklin Evans was "cheap enough in all conscience."
That Whitman's Franklin Evans appeared in The New World ensured the tale a ready audience of novel readers who turned to the paper for literary publications. As Betsy Erkkila has pointed out, The New World (1839–1845), a weekly paper founded by Park Benjamin and Rufus Griswold and advertised as the "largest and cheapest" newspaper in the world, was known for publishing works by British novelists in special "extra" editions of the newspaper (455–56). According to Emory Holloway, in his introduction to a 1920 edition of Franklin Evans, without any form of international copyright law in place, the paper was pirating the works of Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton, and Dumas, among other novelists (xvii). The paper issued both Dickens's Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit and his American Notes for General Circulation, with the latter work being reprinted in as few as seventeen hours after receiving a copy (xvii). American poets like Lydia Sigourney and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow appeared in Benjamin's "Original Poetry" series. At the same time, Whitman himself had a history of employment with and publication in The New World.7 In May 1841, Whitman worked for a short time as a compositor for the paper. Later that same year, The New World published two of Whitman's poems, "Each Has His Grief" (November 20, 1841) and "The Punishment of Pride" (December 18, 1841). Whitman's temperance story, "The Child's Champion," also appeared in The New World on November 20, 1841; this short temperance tale focuses on an adolescent boy named Charlie who, because he refuses to drink, becomes the victim of rowdy bar-room violence perpetuated by a drunken sailor. Charlie is eventually rescued by Langton, a young twenty-something who becomes Charlie's bedfellow and, later, a mentor and father-figure. New World readers familiar with Whitman's "The Child's Champion" would likely have also been attracted to Franklin Evans due to the common temperance theme.
The New World published several announcements in the weeks before Franklin Evans was printed and even seems to have released a brief excerpt that would serve as a preview of the novel. On November 5, 1842, likely in an attempt to earn the approval of New York's temperance societies, The New World's editor informed readers that Franklin Evans was a novel by a "Popular American Author," which was forthcoming on November 23. The novel, the announcement continued, was "dedicated to the Temperance Societies and the friends of the Temperance Cause throughout the union" and then proclaimed "it was written expressly for the NEW WORLD, by one of the best Novelists of this country."8 Although The New World offered Whitman the advance praise that would have been more common for a prolific novelist, he had actually never written any novels before Franklin Evans (and he would never write any after). The publicity for Franklin Evans extended at least until the day before the novel was printed. In a November 22 announcement, The New World promised "an original and beautifully written Novel," this time by a popular American author, instead of by the British writers whose novels typically filled the pages of the paper's extra editions.
Approximately one week before the publication of Whitman's novel, The New World also allowed at least two New York newspapers to print an excerpt from it. A brief sketch entitled "The Reformed," one of the two embedded tales in Whitman's novel, appeared in both the November 17, 1842, issue of the New York Sun and in the November 19, 1842, issue of the Evening Post. "The Reformed" tells the story of Mr. Michael Marchion—a temperance advocate—who serves as a mentor to Franklin Evans. In the context of the novel, "The Reformed" (in later publications retitled "Little Jane") is intended to inspire Evans on his own journey toward sobriety, and it takes the form of an experience narrative or a true, personal story that a former drunkard, in this case, Mr. Marchion himself, tells about his transformation from a "tipsy brawler" to an avid supporter of the temperance cause. The title of the story draws attention to Mr. Marchion's conversion to sobriety following the death of his sister "Little Jane," and it echoes the last line of his narrative: "the young man stepped no more in his wild courses, but was reformed."
Both the Sun and the Evening Post identify "Walter Whitman" as the author of this tale of temperance reform and of the forthcoming novel Franklin Evans. In the Sun, the editor prefaces the excerpt from Whitman's novel with the following praise: "WE are permitted to extract the following beautiful sketch from a forthcoming novel, to be published next week at the New World office, called 'FRANKLIN EVANS, the Inebriate.' It is written by Mr. Whitman, an author whose eloquent pen is in this work devoted to a most worthy cause—the cause of Temperance." Here, "The Reformed" serves both as an advertisement for and a preview of Whitman's forthcoming novel. This tale was almost certainly intended to attract a readership familiar with the popular reform literature of the period. It was reprinted subsequently in at least two additional newspapers just after Franklin Evans was printed. The Troy Daily Budget (Troy, NY) reprinted the story on November 26, 1842, and by November 29, the story had reached reading audiences of the Republican Farmer (Bridgeport, CT), where "The Reformed" appeared on the first page. On February 9, 1843, the Wiskonsan Enquirer (Madison, WI) also printed an edited version of "The Reformed," this time titled simply "From 'FRANKLIN EVANS.'" For this reprinting, the editors not only extracted the tale from Whitman's novel, but they also removed the narrative frame, just as Whitman would do three years later when he chose to reprint the tale himself. At least by the date of this reprint, then, readers as far west as Wisconsin would have seen "The Reformed" and would have known that it was part of Whitman's longer work, Franklin Evans.
However, it is debatable as to how well this excerpted short story—with its emphasis on the transformative power of the religious text Little Jane presses into the hands of her inebriated brother—represented the plot of Franklin Evans as a whole. One has to wonder whether New York newspaper readers found "The Reformed" to be representative of the novel and whether the novel met the expectations inspired by the excerpt. After all, the complicated and melodramatic plot of Whitman's novel includes Franklin Evans's nightly trips to New York barrooms, a failed first marriage, the death of Evans's first wife, a second marriage to a mixed-race woman on a Southern plantation, Evans's desire to leave his second wife for an attractive widow, a murder plot, and his second wife's suicide, in addition to descriptions of Evans's own drunken antics. One has to wonder if nineteenth-century readers were pleased or disappointed to receive such a sensational temperance novel after reading the very proper "The Reformed" as a kind of sneak preview and presumably as an abstract that was deemed representative of the forthcoming novel. In either case, both the announcements and the preview likely contributed to the popularity of Franklin Evans. The novel sold more copies than anything else Whitman published during his lifetime, including Leaves of Grass.
A number of previously unknown reviews of Franklin Evans in periodicals shed valuable light on reviewers' perceptions of Whitman's novel. These largely positive reviews reveal that even though reviewers did not agree on whether Franklin Evans was more of a "thrilling romance" or a temperance tale, many did find it to be valuable for its potential to convey a moral message regarding abstinence from alcoholic drinks. The announcement in the New York Spectator praised the book for the "excellence of the moral it teaches." The New York Daily Tribune came to a similar conclusion, noting that "Literature and Romance have aided to corrupt" so they should "aid to cleanse and purify."9 Franklin Evans, according to the reviewer, was "well calculated to aid in hastening such a consummation" and to encourage a turn to temperance. Even Whitman himself weighed in on the potential for Franklin Evans to warn "every youth, whether he be of city or of country" to avoid "aping" the lifestyle of those who live in town, as Whitman seems to imply that Evans relies on his friend Colby and other young men from nearby boarding houses to introduce him to the local social gathering spots and the ways of city life (Bergman, et al., 1:164).
Still other reviewers predicted that Franklin Evans would be popular among readers. The New Bedford Mercury was "inclined to augur for the novel a great career," while The Portland Transcript emphasized the circulation and far-reaching benefits of Whitman's temperance tale: "The work is calculated to do great good, and from the extensive circulation which we trust it will have, we have no doubt it will exert a most beneficial influence on the community." Even The Literary Garland, a journal published in Montreal, Canada, reviewed Franklin Evans, recommending it to "the perusal of all, and more particularly to the serious attention of the young." The American Traveler informed its readers that Whitman's novel "is having a rapid sale through the country; and we believe it is one of those few works, which will be laid by for a second and third perusal by those who read and think most, and whose opinions in literary matters may be said to control public taste." The responses begin to suggest a pattern of reviewers highlighting the advice that might be conveyed especially to young readers by following Franklin Evans's experience. At the same time, readers are also given directions for how to read the novel. According to the Traveler that means that those who would be tastemakers and trendsetters should secure and save a copy of the novel in order to read it multiple times in order to get the full benefits of the moral tale.
While The New World's advertising efforts and the preview of Franklin Evans certainly got the attention of New York newspaper readers and reviewers as far away as Canada, the largest contributing factor to the popularity of Whitman's novel was likely "due to the author's praises of the Washingtonian crusade" or the Washington temperance movement, a wave of social reform that had gained an incredible following in the early 1840s and was still going strong in November 1842, when Whitman's novel appeared. Whitman seems to have been fascinated specifically with the Washingtonian brand of temperance reform for reasons that were both personal and professional, and the Washingtonian influence on the novel is readily apparent with respect to both structure and content.
According to Whitman biographer Jerome Loving, several members of the poet's family "may have" struggled with alcoholism (30). Loving notes the possibility that Whitman's father, Walter Whitman Sr., had a problem with drunkenness in the mid-1820s, a time when he frequently moved his family around Brooklyn in an attempt to earn a living in real estate.. Unfortunately, the Whitman family's battles with the bottle did not end with Walter Sr., since, according to Loving, the poet's older brother Jesse "may have been a sot," and his younger brother Andrew sometimes found himself unemployed due to his affinity for drink (30). Loving even proposes that the novel Franklin Evans may suggest that the poet "had or feared—a drinking problem in his twenties." He also refers to the fondness Whitman developed in his final years for champagne and brandy; Emory Holloway seconds this assessment of the poet's affinity for alcohol in his introduction, suggesting that "Whitman felt pleasure in recalling the cobblers (with strawberries and snow on top of the large tumblers)," and "the exquisite wines" (ix).
Biographer Gay Wilson Allen has insisted that in contrast to and, I would add, perhaps because of his father and brothers' intemperance, young Walt signed a total abstinence pledge while he was an apprentice in Brooklyn (58). For his part, Whitman denied ever having joined a temperance society. In conversation with Horace Traubel and Thomas Harned, the poet asked both men to open a bottle of wine that he had received and proceeded to hand them the corkscrew from his pocket. Harned told Whitman that they would throw him out of the temperance society, but Whitman insisted he was never in (Traubel 2:323). It is true that no such pledge has been discovered among Whitman's papers, but given the impact of intemperance he may have observed within his own family, not to mention in New York City, he certainly had sufficient reasons to turn his attention to the temperance cause. Whitman's observations of and engagement with the temperance movement and his production of a temperance novel, however, cannot be fully explained by these biographical connections.
Despite Whitman's insistence that he never joined a temperance society, Emory Holloway has argued that in his twenties, the poet, then journalist, "shared most of the reformatory enthusiasms then popular" and has suggested that Whitman's later statements are not necessarily "a precise measure of his support of the temperance cause at that time" (vi). On a similar note, Jennifer Hynes has observed that Whitman's early journalism showed a "distinct leaning toward" a specific "brand" of temperance reform, that of the Washingtonians (710). According to Rubin and Brown's volume on Whitman's work with the New York Aurora, in 1842, only days after Anson Herrick and John F. Ropes, the founders of the Aurora, announced that twenty-two year-old Walter Whitman, a "bold, energetic, and original writer," had succeeded Nichols as "leading editor" of their paper, Whitman published his first journalistic accounts of the activities of the Washingtonians (2). That Whitman would cover New York temperance happenings for the Aurora was (admittedly) unsurprising given the extraordinary popular appeal of the Washingtonians during the early 1840s and given that Herrick and Ropes had recently launched a weekly temperance paper of their own, fittingly titled the Washingtonian (139n19). Yet what made Whitman's Aurora articles particularly noteworthy was that they revealed his budding, but intense, fascination with the Washingtonians' innovative approaches to temperance reform.
On Wednesday, March 30, 1842, the Aurora included at least three items about the Washingtonians; two of those were articles written by Whitman. In "Temperance Among the Firemen," Whitman recorded his enthusiastic approval of a March 29 temperance celebration that garnered "thousands" of on-lookers: "We stood upon the steps of the City Hall . . . and saw the passage of the grand procession . . . First came a banner bearing the head of Washington, immediately after which were a body of firemen."10 Whitman draws readers' attention to a temperance banner decorated with an image of George Washington, which as Harold Bergman has noted, identified these firemen and artisans as Washingtonians (1:498, n87.33). Whitman is impressed by "the grand procession" of temperate sailors, hatters, and firemen who marched in lines that stretched for nearly two miles. Whitman commended the "generosity" and the "heart and soul" dedication that characterized the "young" firemen's devotion to the cause. Whitman noted the presence of "an immense number" of former drunkards, who had become "worthy members of society" by joining a temperance association.
In his second article, "Scenes of Last Night" (April 1, 1842), Whitman documented the proceedings of an "experience meeting" in which men spoke about their previous addiction to alcohol, their conversion to sobriety, and their decision to become temperance society members, usually at the urging of a fellow Washingtonian.11 Although Whitman never explicitly identified the Grand Street gathering as a meeting of a Washingtonian temperance society, the presence of Captain Wisdom and Whitman's descriptions of the audience and the proceedings lend support to a reading of the assembly as just such an experience meeting. After all, Whitman pointed out the address, the songs, and the personal experience that he heard, and the regular Aurora readership, which totaled a "respectable five thousand" in February 1842 (Rubin and Brown 2) would (likely) have been familiar with the names of significant temperance advocates in New York given the extensive print coverage that the Washingtonians received. Hence, many readers likely recognized Whitman's "Capt. Wisdom" as Captain William A. Wisdom, a local blacksmith and reformed drunkard, who not only encouraged the formation of a Washingtonian society in New York, but was also chosen as its first president on March 29, 1841.12 Whitman's article expresses an enthusiasm for and an interest in the participatory spirit, the benevolence and compassion, and the words of Wisdom he hears at the experience meeting, all of which stood as the central elements of Washingtonian reform, thereby setting their societies apart from prior temperance efforts.
As Jed Dannenbaum has convincingly argued, temperance reformers in the decades prior to the emergence of the Washingtonians were likely to be clergymen or members of the wealthy upper classes who signed partial pledges that forbade the consumption of ardent spirits while permitting wine, a favorite beverage of the elite (16). These reformers established societies that recruited members from their own social classes, namely those who were already temperate or still only moderate drinkers. In contrast, they denounced the very drunkards who would have benefited from their temperance messages as "depraved and abominable sinners, past hope, and given up to perdition" (Mitchell 139). In the infamous words of Reverend Justin Edwards, who aided in the foundation of the American Temperance Society in 1826, "Keep the temperate people temperate; the drunkards will soon die, and the land be free" (qtd. in Maxwell 412).
In a February 1842 speech to the Springfield Washingtonians, Abraham Lincoln commented on the "erroneous" nature of this approach: "They [the preachers, Lawyers, and hired agents, i.e. the reformers] are supposed to have no sympathy of feeling or interest, with those very persons whom it is their object to convince and persuade" (132). In other words, early temperance societies were neither reaching, nor reaching out to, the drunkards who would benefit most from their efforts and/or to Whitman's beloved tradesmen and laborers, whose massive popular support had the potential to bring renewed enthusiasm to temperance reform. Given up as lost causes, shut out of the national societies, and perhaps longing to gain respectability and obtain stable employment, these men began to form their own temperance societies, complete with a total abstinence pledge. But it was not until the rise of Washingtonian temperance in the early 1840s that artisans, laborers, and inebriates, and subsequently even women and children, would flock en masse to take part in the new temperance movement.
Washington Temperance Societies and their auxiliaries can trace their origins to a single parent association formed in Baltimore, Maryland. The Washingtonians' Baltimore beginning in April 1840 occurred against an unforgettable backdrop of political fervor surrounding the year's presidential campaigns. Ironically, that very year Whig presidential hopeful William Henry Harrison distributed bottles of hard cider to voters as part of his successful "log cabin and hard cider" campaign. Harrison's opponent in the election was then President Martin Van Buren, who was re-nominated by Democrats in Baltimore in the month following the formation of the Washingtonians (Beardsley, "The Making"). In essence, as Harrison's campaign billed him as the workingman's candidate and soused with free alcohol the voters that eventually elected him, six drinking men in Baltimore, most of whom were artisans and members of the working class, turned to temperance.
The oft-repeated story of the formation of the Washingtonians—likely part truth, part creation myth, and part urban legend—begins with irony: the first Washington Temperance Society, much like Whitman's novel, is said to have been the product of drunken jesting. On Thursday, April 2, 1840, six bosom bottle-companions who were also laborers and artisans met at Chase's Tavern on Liberty Street, one of their frequent Baltimore haunts. Later that evening, some of these men attended a temperance lecture given by either Reverend Jacob Knapp or Reverend Matthew Hale Smith. When the lecture attendees reported their hearings to the rest of the group, the friends did not find themselves laughing at what they had likely expected to be the amusing words of a cold-water man. Instead, they began to consider the advantages of sober living and the possibility of reformation. In fact, when these drinking men met again on Sunday, they agreed to create a total abstinence society. The men called their society the Washington Temperance Society of Baltimore in honor of George Washington.13
By 1841 accounts of the public enthusiasm surrounding the Baltimore Washingtonians had reached Whitman's New York. Such accounts of the success of the Baltimore society (at least in part) prompted the New York City Temperance Society to agree to sponsor a series of meetings in late March at which a delegation of reformed drunkards from Baltimore would attempt to "stimulate reform among the 'drinking class' in New York City" (Vigilante 166). According to the Journal of the American Temperance Union, following a week of such meetings, the parent Washington Temperance Society of New York was formed on March 29, 1841, at the Scotch Presbyterian Church on Broome Street (4:53). As Sean Wilentz explains, in almost no time, the public enthusiasm that sprang up around this new society "made New York . . . 'the banner city of Washingtonianism'" (qtd. 307). Within a year this society and its auxiliaries would boast a membership of more than ten thousand, two to three thousand of whom marched in the grand procession that was the highlight of their anniversary celebration, the very event that won Whitman's energetic approval in his March 30 article for the Aurora.
The New York Tribune reviewer of Franklin Evans implies that one benefit Whitman gained from the Washingtonians was a model for the structure and tone of the novel. The reviewer explains that "there are thousands who will read a novel who would not touch a Temperance tract or periodical." Rubin and Brown have argued that Whitman's novel "accomplished the work of an efficient [temperance] lecturer" (97). In other words, as a narrator, Franklin Evans takes on the role of a Washingtonian temperance speaker addressing a sympathetic audience. He relates his personal experience with alcohol from his drunken exploits up to the moment of redemption and, then, conversion from former drunkard to temperance adherent. In the words of literary historian Glenn Hendler, Whitman's novel "reproduces the affective logic of the experience meeting without actually representing such a gathering in the story" ("Bloated Bodies," 129). Readers of the narrative, by extension, do not attend a temperance meeting, but hear Evans's experience just the same.
The narrative structures that the Tribune reviewer and Hendler see as reproducing for a reading audience the feeling of an experience meeting are two-fold. First, Whitman opens with two lengthy paragraphs in the third person that introduce the reader to a "stranger" carrying a valise with a card indicating that his name is Franklin Evans. In the third paragraph, Whitman employs a "Washingtonian strategy of narration" when he shifts to first person ("Reader, I was that youth"), thereby informing his readers that Evans is the "I," who will be relating a tale of personal experience to the "you" or the reader(s) (Hendler, "Bloated Bodies," 129). Yet, Evans's experience is not the only one readers encounter, since they also learn of the "tipsy brawler's" (Mr. Marchion's) reformation by the bedside of his dying sister, Little Jane, as well as the plight of Evans's benefactor Stephen Lee, who lost his wife and his child due to his wife's gin habit. It is through these multiple narratives—Evans's and Marchion's— that Whitman, as Hendler puts it, "exhorts his readers to move into an intimate and sympathetic proximity" with Evans (129). As a result, the reader comes " to . . . have pity for a fellow creature's weakness" (15) as he shares his "experience" like the plainspoken Captain Wisdom in "Scenes of Last Night."
Given the drinking and alcoholism Whitman may have observed within his family, not to mention in the saloons and restaurants that seemed to spring up overnight in the growing city, he had sufficient reason to advocate exercising moderation when consuming alcohol, to support temperance reform that called for total abstinence from drink, and even to avoid patronizing drinking houses. However, it might also have been the poet's attraction to the Washingtonian movement and their temperance discourse that, albeit somewhat ironically, allowed him to develop a space within his fiction in which he could enter and explore the barroom.
Even though Whitman may have been interested in the Washingtonians' lectures and "experiences" because they were didactic, he would have certainly been aware that these—whether delivered as speeches or printed in periodicals—were also a form of macabre entertainment, consisting of graphic descriptions of a drinker's barroom exploits, the physical and mental effects of strong drink, and even going so far as to offer detailed accounts of violence perpetrated against wives and children while under the influence. Likewise, the Washingtonian festivals and amusements—their songs, performances of intoxication, temperance saloons, and temperance theatres—also "borrowed freely" and were modeled after "popular theater and tavern culture" (Blocker, et. al. 645). In other words, the movement was never able to fully separate itself from the barroom cultures to which it was supposed to serve as a cold-water alternative. The Washingtonians' speeches, then, were always double-edged, suggesting that even as these temperance speakers advocated sobriety at home and at work, their narratives simultaneously explored what Michael Moon has called a "range of counter-discourses of perverse, orgiastic sexuality, morbid sentimentality, and the cultivation of loafing" (57). According to David Reynolds, Whitman, much like the Washingtonians, used this moral cover of temperance in order to explore "an array of dark and erotic themes in his early fiction," a move that Reynolds credits with "preparing the way for the adventurousness of his mature poetry" (Black Cats, 48).
If, as Joanna Levin has observed, "[I]t was within the temperance fiction that Whitman first developed a space in which to explore, via the medium of print, the world of New York nightlife," then Whitman consistently and explicitly positioned this underworld—complete with its "scandalous" visitors and inhabitants—within and around the city's drinking establishments (23). Franklin Evans seems to characterize the barrooms as both exciting and entertaining even if they are also frightening and morally reprehensible. He proceeds directly from the boardinghouse to the drinking house, in the company of Colby and other men-about-town of his own age. The barroom is, as Hendler and Castiglia suggest, a largely masculine world, a place where same-sex camaraderie was common (xxiii). At first, Evans is clearly overwhelmed by the city; he is not accustomed to the pace of urban life or to going to the musical drinking houses with his friends. Evans himself describes the barroom as a "seductive scene," where young men "on the verge of boyhood" drank and women sang to the customers. He sensed "something was wrong," and yet, he admits he was "completely enthralled" by the female singers and the young boys' ability to toss off glass after glass of liquor. Evans's mixed feelings about the barroom continue throughout the novel despite the fact that he eventually pledges himself to temperance.
Even as the narrative takes Evans closer to sobriety, he, nevertheless, maintains that "there is even a kind of satisfaction in deliberately and calmly reviewing actions that we feel were foolish or evil," including the barroom, which he refers to as a "scene of pleasure." For Evans, then, the barroom provides as much, if not more, "pleasure" than it does discomfort, and his fascination with this homosocial space may help explain why Evans exclaims "Oh fatal pleasure!" rather than "fatal alcohol" as he relates his experiences and the consequences of his drinking, or, as Michael Warner puts it, when Evans is talking about drinking, he often seems to be thinking about something else: here that is the seductive possibilities of the barroom.
Despite Evans's lapses into pleasurable retellings of his exploits, the tales that Whitman embedded in the novel—including "The Reformed" or Mr. Marchion's narrative, and the Native American legend that would later be titled "The Death of Wind-Foot"—certainly allow readers to experience the multiple narratives they would hear at a temperance meeting. But these embedded tales may also help explain why the novel was dubbed "rambling and ill-told" (M. W. H.). Some literary critics speculate that Whitman composed Franklin Evans so quickly not because his writing process was fueled with ardent spirits, but rather because he was using short stories he had already composed to build the novel. Even though they may lend support to the feel of multiple experiences shared at a temperance experience meeting, these multiple narratives may also simply be a by-product of Whitman's recycling of shorter fiction pieces. Lulloff speculates that each of the embedded tales—"The Reformed" and "The Death of Wind-Foot"— as well as a dream sequence in which the last vassal signs a pledge, were composed previously (234). Since "The Reformed" was published only the week before Whitman's novel and since "The Death of Wind-foot" was published for the first time with the release of Franklin Evans, it is difficult to know for sure the order of composition.
However, Franklin Evans's dream sequence in which he witnesses the "last vassal" of the "Snake-Tempter" converted to sobriety seems to make use of at least one earlier story. The dream sequence itself, with its procession and the "Last Slave of Appetite," calls to mind the last soldier of the revolution honored in a similar procession in Whitman's story "The Last of the Sacred Army," which had already appeared in The Democratic Review in March 1842. The final line of the dream sequence reads "Victory! victory! The Last Slave of Appetite is free, and the people are regenerated!" Borrowing from previously composed stories could explain these narrative similarities, as well as the rapid composition of Franklin Evans.
The short fiction piece that Whitman published closest to the release of Franklin Evans was the story of "Lingave's Temptation." The original publication of "Lingave's Temptation" is uncertain. The earliest known appearance of "Lingave's Temptation" was in the New York Observer on November 26, 1842, three days after Franklin Evans was issued. In the story, the poet Lingave has to make a decision whether to write the literature his editor asks him to produce, which requires some sacrifice of principles and artistic vision but could be financially lucrative, or not to sacrifice his beliefs and risk remaining in poverty. It is tempting to speculate that Whitman himself would soon face a similar question. His fiction did provide an income even if it was not a large one. The financial concerns should not be overlooked in Whitman's switch from fiction to poetry; maybe he was making the same choice as Lingave, the writing he believed in versus the writing that would sell, that would be popular and brought in some money even if it was not much.
If, as Ed Folsom has argued, "a spectral black presence both haunts and energizes Walt Whitman's work," that presence emerges with dramatic, plot-altering clarity in The New World publication of Franklin Evans ("Erasing Race" 3). Evans's second marriage to a mixed-race or "creole" slave woman named Margaret during a trip to Virginia near the end of the narrative ends in the gruesome murder-suicide of Margaret and Evans's romantic interest, a white widow named Mrs. Conway. This episode adds a gothic twist to the story and leads to its resolution, prompting Evans's final transformation to sobriety when he travels back to the north, signs a total abstinence pledge, inherits money, and settles into a comfortable middle age. An early example of Whitman writing about race, this segment of the novel participates in a general tendency of temperance literature to compare the state of the inebriate to that of slavery, while also parroting proslavery language and argumentation. When Whitman revised the section for serialized publication in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle as "Fortunes of a Country-Boy" in 1846, however, he downplayed the miscegenation theme, removing clear references to Margaret's race and capitalizing on the ambiguity of the term "creole." Franklin Evans thus represents an early example of Whitman revising race out of his published works—a practice that he would continue in revisions to his poetry.14
The Virginia episode that includes Evans's marriage to Margaret occupies eight chapters of the original New World version of Franklin Evans, a substantial part of the twenty-five-chapter novel. The marriage is described as the result of Evans's habit of drinking wine with the owner of a Virginia plantation, a man named Bourne. Margaret, one of Bourne's slaves, resists an advance from the overseer of the plantation and is brought before Bourne. Evans, affected by her beauty and her description of the injustice, decides to marry Margaret with the encouragement of Bourne, who agrees to grant her freedom, and they move into living quarters with her brother Louis, who is given to Evans by Bourne. Evans soon regrets his decision and begins to show interest in a blond, blue-eyed widow and relative of the overseer, recently arrived for a visit from the North and renowned for her romantic conquests. The widow, Mrs. Conway, demands that Evans give her Louis, infuriating Margaret, who retaliates by having Louis lead Mrs. Conway to a house that has been struck by a plague recently arrived in the area. The widow becomes sick but begins to recover, at which point Margaret sneaks in the window and strangles her. After Louis becomes sick with the plague and dies, Margaret is beset by guilt, her acts are discovered, and she confesses to the murder and commits suicide in jail.
Whitman's novel may have been predictable when it came to temperance tropes and sensationalism, but in its representation of interracial marriage it is decidedly less so. "Scores of lesser-known writers produced temperance novels, stories, poems, plays, and periodicals," writes critic Debra Rosenthal, "yet none used temperance rhetoric to advance an antimiscegenation message, as Whitman does in Franklin Evans" (57). Critics have pointed to the Virginia chapters as an early and unusual example of Whitman talking about race and slavery. They have differed, however, on whether the "creole episode" signals Whitman's reiteration of patriarchal proslavery views or his subversion of them.15 Amina Gautier and others have pointed out the ways in which Margaret is cast as the embodiment of the actions Evans contemplates, bringing to fruition the acts of murder and conspiracy that Evans attempts but does not ultimately commit earlier in the narrative. "Margaret herself," as Anne Dalke writes, "takes the final steps so common in temperance literature: those of unrestrained rage, murder, and suicide" (19). Evans's freedom from inebriation is the result of his visit to Virginia: Margaret's guilt and her death seem to free Evans from the hold alcohol has over him. Here, as Toni Morrison has suggested in the context of American literature more generally, the internal struggles of white characters are projected on to the bound black body, and freedom in the form of Evans's achievement of sobriety and his restoration to active, productive citizenry is built out of the visible presence, perpetuation, and defense of race slavery.
When Whitman took the focus on temperance out of Franklin Evans for publication in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1846, however, he also played down the centrality of race. Whitman revised the account of the Virginia trip that would appear in the serialized version, retitled "Fortunes of a Country-Boy; Incidents in Town—and his Adventure at the South." In the revised version, where the project of temperance reform is much less prominent, wine is not blamed for the relationship between Evans and Margaret, and Evans is described only as her "suitor"; Margaret is not enslaved, but is rather the "creole" half-sister of Bourne; Louis is her attendant and probably her slave, rather than her brother; and it is unclear whether Evans and Margaret actually marry. Whitman removes the first discussion of their marriage, but a brief note about rumors of an intended divorce is left in the narrative as one of the factors that leads to Margaret's murder of Mrs. Conway.
This shift in the story depends on the ambiguity of the term "creole," a word that was already difficult to interpret in the first version. It is challenging to pin down a nineteenth-century meaning for "creole," in part because it had multiple meanings, developed out of multiple colonial contexts. Used sometimes in the early Americas to refer to black slaves who were descendants of Africans but born in the New World, and other times to refer to white settlers of European origin, "creole" also developed specifically regional connotations in the nineteenth-century contexts of Louisiana and the French Caribbean.16 In Franklin Evans, the word acted as a reference to Margaret's mixed African and European race. As Christopher Castiglia and Glenn Hendler note in the introduction to their edition of Franklin Evans, however, the word was not commonly used in Virginia (liv). In the revised version of the tale, Whitman backs away from the racial connotations of the word: in "Fortunes," Margaret is not Bourne's slave, but rather his half-sister. Though the possibility that she is of mixed race in the revised version is not foreclosed entirely, Whitman also removes all references to Margaret's race from the Virginia chapters. Thus "all the fiery disposition of her nation" in Franklin Evans becomes "all the fiery disposition of her soul" in "Fortunes"; and descriptions of her savagery, her freedom, the "fire of her race," and her physical appearance are cut from the narrative.
By moving Margaret into the planter's family in the revised version, Whitman all but eliminates the implication of miscegenation even as he changes the terms of Evans's involvement to fit the disappearance of the catalyzing factor of alcohol. Rather than getting drunk and marrying an enslaved person, then selling her brother (his brother-in-law) to the object of his adulterous love interest, the Evans of "Fortunes" merely acts as suitor to a sister of the plantation owner. He is no longer involved directly in the slave trade, nor does he own a slave, a structure of relation that critics have argued is central to the narrative of regeneration in Franklin Evans.17 Instead, ownership of Louis becomes composite, as Evans's interests seemingly merge with those of Bourne. When the widow in "Fortunes" tells Evans she wants Louis, she says: "They told me he belonged to you, or to your friend, Mr. Bourne, which is the same thing."
If the revisions provide plausible deniability of the miscegenation plot, they also create the same kind of spectral presence that Folsom identifies in the manuscripts. The story is now haunted by the possibility of miscegenation. The term creole remains ambiguous, and although explicit references to Margaret's race are removed, some suggestive details about her appearance remain, including Evans's description of her as "dark and swarthy." That Margaret is the planter's half sister now hints at the exploitative sexual relationships between plantation owners and their female slaves. A cue to this haunting or now unspoken story is apparent in the feeling of the planter about his sister in "Fortunes," which is described as an ambiguous dislike: "from some reason he never seemed to like his half sister." Although Whitman includes a paragraph of proslavery apologetics that he had introduced in Franklin Evans, in "Fortunes" this paragraph is directly followed by the paragraph introducing Margaret, and the vague sense of unsettlement with which Bourne regards his sister seems to undermine the blithe defense of slavery he offers in the preceding paragraph. Has the miscegenation plot been eliminated from "Fortunes"? Or has it been forced underground, made suggestive and haunting in a way that offers a more complex vision of the South and its now titular significance to the story?
Whether these revisions speak to a change in Whitman's views on slavery, or merely echo the conflicting views he professed elsewhere on the subject, they shift the dynamics of the narrative and the system of relations associated with the Southern plantation. If, in Franklin Evans, Whitman advocates "racial temperance" as well as temperance, as Rosenthal has argued, both causes are much less prominent in the revised version. "Fortunes" anticipates the revisions between manuscripts and published poetry in that race lingers at the edges and in the omissions of the narrative, exerting a gravitational pull in its very haunting, its revisionary non-presence taunting the reader to imagine the unimaginable, to write the pre-history of the planter's dark-complexioned sister. "Creole" emerges as a pivot, a linguistic cue to the instabilities of both racial and linguistic distinctions, speaking to a revision that functions on the level of meaning and context without a revision of the word itself—a rotation of the plot around the word that invokes a complicated etymology and the possibility of multiple histories, meanings, and interpretations.
If Evans's trip to the South forms a narrative crux of his story, the embedded short story that would eventually be titled "The Death of Wind-Foot," an account of an Indian chief's feud with a rival tribe and their vengeful kidnapping and killing of his son, does not. The tale was initially published separately and only loosely tied to the plot of Franklin Evans. When Whitman republished Franklin Evans as "Fortunes," he took out this story as well as the other embedded tales that had appeared in the original. The story appears in Franklin Evans as an account by one of Evans's co-travelers on his initial journey in a market-wagon to New York, an "antiquarian" by the name of Stephen Lee, who will later become Evans's employer and benefactor. It is loosely framed as a commentary on the negative effects of alcohol on Native American tribes, but the story is set in the past, and its relation to the rest of the novel helps to perpetuate the myth of the vanishing Indian. As Castiglia and Hendler write, "Like the United States in Whitman's journalistic account, Franklin Evans begins with the 'vanishing' of Indians" (lii).
Descriptions of the Native American characters in "The Death of Wind Foot" and of Margaret in the Virginia chapters of Franklin Evans make use of similar language. Both stories are revenge plots, depicting acts of violence. The Kansi Indian and Margaret both dissemble and plot revenge. In the story of Wind-Foot, the Kansi's eyes are "two fiery orbs, rolling about incessantly, like the eyes of a wild beast." As Margaret waits outside the widow's bedroom, the narrator describes "two bright small orbs, fixed, and yet rolling in fire." Of Margaret's response to the ebbs and flows of the widow's illness, prior to the murder, Whitman writes, "her heart had still a remnant of the savage." As Castiglia and Hendler point out, "The construction of national identity in the post-Revolutionary War United States often involved attributing contrasting and less desirable traits to African and Native Americans, in contrast to whom white Americans could conceive themselves as rational, industrious, and virtuous" (li). Acts of murder in Franklin Evans are irrational, racialized acts: against them, Evans is able to redefine himself both racially—he is not the sort of person who marries a slave—and nationally—he is part of the group for whom stories about Native Americans are stories of antiquity as well as of national heritage.
The vanishing of Indians takes on a textual corollary when Whitman removes the story before republishing Franklin Evans as "Fortunes." With the revision, the Indians literally vanish from the narrative of "Fortunes of a Country-Boy," even as the episode in the South looms larger, representing four of eleven chapters in the revised version. Perhaps this signals Whitman's increasing interest in the racial dynamics of white and black in the South—though his revisions would suggest Whitman was backing away from talking openly about race, the subject would begin to occupy space in his notebooks, and eventually to fuel his pre-war poetry in its absence as much as in its presence—while Native Americans were relegated to disappear into an American history.18
Whitman wasn't the only one to revise the "creole episode" in Franklin Evans. In a 1929 edition, Emory Holloway switched chapter XX, Evans's description of the dream sequence that features the "Last Slave of Appetite" signing a document renouncing his "allegiance," and chapter XXI, which describes Margaret's murder of the widow. In his introduction Holloway argues that the "haste in composition easily explains why, in the original edition, Chapters XX and XXI were reversed, out of their present, and proper, chronological order" (xvii). Holloway goes on to speculate that the reversal may also have been an error committed by The New World, which published self-laudatory statements about its speed of publishing (and pirating) texts like Dickens's American Notes. Speed of composition notwithstanding, that the two chapters were switched in production seems much less evident than Holloway contends. Chapter XXII clearly follows XXI, picking up with the morning after the widow's death, and subsequent editors have followed the original chapter order, which has also been maintained in the present edition.19 In either case, the narrative temporality and chronology of this section in Franklin Evans is disrupted by the inclusion of the chapter. In effect, as Gautier has noted, the widow dies twice, once at the beginning of the dream sequence chapter, and once in the chapter describing the murder. In "Fortunes," the murder stays, but the iteration is gone: Whitman cuts the dream sequence that makes up Chapter XX in the original, moving directly from Mrs. Conway's sickness, to her brief moment of recovery, to her murder.
Ultimately the disruption that chapter XX creates in the original version of Franklin Evans speaks to Whitman's early experiments with sex and the body in the story, creating what might be called a narrative erotics that anticipates the radical conjunction of text and body in Leaves of Grass. Holloway's dedication to restoring linearity to the narrative in his edition—a dedication shared by many editors of Whitman's rarely linear manuscripts—in this case reflects an effort to mitigate the queerness of the dream chapter.20 If fluidity between body and text, sexuality and politics, forms a central part of Whitman's poetics, as Michael Moon has argued, Franklin Evans might well be read as an early step in the direction of Whitman working out what the body could contribute to narrative and perspectival experimentation. It also, however, speaks to the censorship Moon discusses in relation to the short story "The Child's Champion," which Whitman revised several times after its first publication to downplay the homoerotic scenes.
The revisions between Franklin Evans and "Fortunes of a Country-Boy" did more than reinscribe the family relations between Margaret and the other members of the Virginia plantation; they also turned Evans himself into a bachelor. In the serialized version, Evans's early marriage to a wife who dies from neglect and despair over his intemperate habits is cut from the story, and it becomes unclear whether or not his relationship with Margaret actually involves marriage. In place of these marriages, homosocial relationships emerge with greater clarity, from the early influence on Evans of his companion Colby, to the expedited reconciliation in the revised story between Evans and his benefactor Stephen Lee.
Washingtonianism, the temperance movement out of which Franklin Evans emerged, was largely both working-class and male. Women did not usually speak at Washingtonian experience meetings, and the depiction of female characters in Franklin Evans speaks to the nature of their presence in temperance literature more broadly. Functioning either as victims of abuse by the drunken men in their families, or as irredeemable inebriates themselves, women rarely rehabilitate in temperance fiction. Still, women formed an important part of the audience, and Glenn Hendler has discussed the ways that the Washingtonian movement relied on emotional identification or sympathy with the story of the drunkard, tapping into strategies also at work in sentimental literature in order to create both heterosocial alliances and homosocial associations. Hendler argues that Washingtonianism helped to construct a working-class vision of sentimental masculinity, one that codified the assumption of both whiteness and maleness as requisite characteristics for participation in the public sphere, even as it suggested that public emotion or sentiment was not incompatible with nineteenth-century models of masculinity. Michael Warner in turn has argued that the voluntary associationism of the temperance movement spoke to a specifically American conception of the relationship between will or self-mastery and addiction or compulsion. In this view the pledge emerges as a sign of voluntarism, a willful expression of capacity to self-govern that defines the individual's relation to the social movement.
Self-governance, capital, fellowship between men: these themes form the underpinnings of Whitman's temperance tale, prompting critics to assert that, in Warner's words, "Whitman, when he is talking about alcohol in Franklin Evans, often seems to be thinking about something else" (271). What is the relationship between the "seductive scene" of the barroom and the forms of capital circulating in the world of Franklin Evans? In the introduction to their edition of the novel, Castiglia and Hendler suggest that capital is tied to homoerotic desire for Evans. And indeed, the relationships he strikes up with other men are almost always related in some way to employment and income. The ride to the city that begins the relationship with Stephen Lee that earns Evans employment and an inheritance also begins another relationship with Colby that starts him down the path of intemperance.
Is Whitman "up to something" in Franklin Evans, using temperance discourse to talk about something else? Vivian Pollak has argued that Whitman's elevation in Franklin Evans and other fiction of "the love of comrades" over heterosexual marriage provoked discomfort with the genre. Pollak postulates that Whitman stopped writing fiction because he was concerned about the emerging tension between the expression within his stories of homoerotic and brotherly love and socially acceptable relationships.
Temperance and antislavery reform were two of the main realms in which nineteenth-century writers talked candidly about the body. Discussions of physical changes to the body of the inebriate became a defining characteristic of temperance fiction. Critics have drawn attention to the fact that the drunkard is represented in Franklin Evans, as in other temperance stories, as falling away from whiteness: his skin increasingly becomes red, blotched, or dirty.21 As Karen Sanchez-Eppler has noted, Margaret also becomes blacker over the course of the Virginia chapters, a development seemingly intended to parallel the projection onto her of Evans's contemplated sins and his downward trajectory. A story of an inebriate in the South is twice-authorized, then, in a too-direct engagement of the body, even though Whitman ultimately draws a distinction between the temporary, reversible signs of intemperance on the (white) body and the permanent signs of race, which, in Franklin Evans, correspond to character and a predetermined narrative trajectory into passion, violence, and death. The inebriate may turn red and brown as a result of his subjection to his own desire and external stimuli, but his redemption restores his whiteness and the invisibility of his body—and Evans, having externalized and conquered his desire, ends both versions of the tale a bachelor with his own financial means, an independent man, finally freed of the pesky need for sex, money, and alcohol, as well as the male fellowship that encourages and fulfills such needs.
Warner emphasizes one specific moment in Franklin Evans that he argues points most forcefully forward to Whitman's poetic project in Leaves of Grass. This is a moment at the beginning of the queer chapter XX, when Evans takes a step back as narrator, both from the linearity of the narration and from the events themselves, turning instead to his own feelings about the experiences he has related:
I think there is even a kind of satisfaction in deliberately and calmly reviewing actions that we feel were foolish or evil. It pleases us to know that we have the learning of experience. The very contrast, perhaps, between what we are, and what we were, is gratifying.... From no other view can I understand how it is, that I sometimes catch myself turning back in my reflection, to the very dreariest and most degraded incidents which I have related in the preceding pages, and thinking upon them without any of the bitterness and mortification which they might be supposed to arouse in my bosom. The formal narration of them, to be sure, is far from agreeable to me—but in my own self-communion upon the subject, I find a species of entertainment. I was always fond of day-dreams—an innocent pleasure, perhaps, if not allowed too much latitude.
This is followed by the dream sequence featuring a great nation "two score" or forty years in the future, in which the "Last Vassal" signs the pledge, renouncing his status as the "Last Slave of Appetite" and joining the "Army of the Regenerated." The vision in this dream sequence of a powerful, homogeneous nation redefines freedom as the conquering of appetite, a radical act of volition that purifies the individual through submission to the social body.
To find an "innocent pleasure" buried in this tale of the pursuit of pleasure leading to every kind of debauchery, is perhaps surprising, and yet here it is—the innocent pleasure of day-dreams. At the point of self-communion Evans breaks the bonds of sentiment, becoming a member of the audience for his own narrative. Confined in his room, reflecting on the death of the widow before the reader has been informed of it, and reading a newspaper with compelling extracts from a temperance address, he slips into a "strange" and dream-like state. Innocence is ("perhaps") restored to pleasure at the point where the narrator is detached from his body and its mastering appetites. As the narrator moves outside of his role, his body, and his life story, also cued is the participation of the reader, whose behavior in the act of reading is now synchronized with Evans—the reader, too, is likely to be seated, reading a newspaper. It is as though Evans has climbed out of the story, and taken a seat next to the reader, prompting both to reflect on the tale as a species of entertainment rather than as history. The scene is described as "peculiar," "strange," and full of "spirits," and in the emergence of the author from his own account, mimicking the physical position of the reader even as he disrupts the story's narrative linearity, it is certainly uncanny.
The chapter that follows this dream chapter in Franklin Evans, describing Margaret's act of strangulation, might also be read, as Karen Sanchez-Eppler has argued, as an erotic scene, itself a kind of dream-sequence. Evans sleeps peacefully in a chair by the bed when the murder happens, even as his voice narrates the events. In the bed, Margaret and the widow are locked together in a deadly struggle. As an eroticized merger or mediation of difference, Sanchez-Eppler argues, this moment anticipates the role of the poet-mediator in the later poetry. A temporal disjunction is created by the present but unconscious narrator, reduced to a silent sleeping body in a story he himself narrates from some point in the future. Here, as in the dream sequence chapter, the inertness of the narrator's body is foregrounded in order to enable acrobatic acts of narration, including a jarring conjunction of reader and narrator as audience members watching and reacting to the same show. In this narrative disruption, the text transcends its boundaries, reaching out to the reader, catching her in the complacent act of reading, conveying an intimate knowledge of her physical position by mirroring that position in the narrator, and inquiring: what is the nature of your interest in this story?
In "Fortunes," as race shifts from sensational to spectral status, the "queer" chapter of Franklin Evans disappears completely. This cut restores the narrative to a seamless progression from the widow's illness to her murder, even as the novel itself is split into installments over twelve issues of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The dream vision of a great homogenous (white) nation coming together twenty years in the future, in 1862, to renounce its addiction to appetite—a vision of harmony strikingly at odds with the historical disharmony that year would bring—that vision, like the Indians, has vanished from the tale. Shorn of marriages, dreams, narrative disruptions, and visions of a harmonious nation "free" of "slavery," "Fortunes" speaks to a different historical moment, a different audience and publication context, and a writer with an evolving sense of the limits to the forms of expression available through writing.
Whitman's decision to play down the temperance theme when he republished Franklin Evans as "Fortunes" in 1846 seems to lend credence to his later statement to Horace Traubel that he "stopped right there . . . never cut a chip off that kind of timber again" (1:93). Interestingly, however, less than three months after the publication of Franklin Evans and Whitman's concluding hint that his readers might "hear from him again" if they favored it, Whitman produced two short chapters of a work entitled "The Madman" that promised to be very similar in "method" to his temperance novel. As Brasher notes, this fragment was printed in the New York Washingtonian and Organ (formerly the Washingtonian), the very paper that Herrick and Ropes had begun and entrusted to James Burns's editorship around the same time that Whitman had taken Nichols's place as editor of their New York Aurora (240n1; 110n1). Because the Washingtonian and Organ was dedicated to publishing news items of interest to Washingtonian societies and their auxiliaries, including reports of meetings held by local temperance associations, Emory Holloway, who discovered the fragment, has speculated that it was intended as another temperance novel or at least a novelette (Brasher 110n1). Indeed, the Washingtonian and Organ published the tale with the attribution "By the author of 'Franklin Evans.'" In the third paragraph of "The Madman," the narrator informs readers that a feature of the setting—a large eating house in Fulton street—which "an observer might have noticed with great satisfaction," was that no ardent liquors were available to "nullify the healthy action of the powers of the stomach upon what had been eaten." Despite his protests, then, Whitman did begin writing what was in all likelihood another work that favored Washingtonian temperance. He seemingly "cut a chip" off the "timber" of the temperance novel, or at least produced another splinter, although no other installments of the tale appeared in future editions of the Washingtonian and Organ.
Dismissals by Whitman himself and by early critics notwithstanding, Franklin Evans is likely to be of interest to a wide range of modern-day readers, Whitman fans, and historians of the nineteenth century. Like Whitman's other fiction and journalism that he was publishing at the time, the novel represents an early manifestation of Whitman thinking through dynamics that would eventually become central to Leaves of Grass, including the play between body and text and author and reader that would inform the modes of intimacy at work in poems like "Song of Myself" as well as the varieties of male-male affection that would produce poems like those in the "Calamus" section of Leaves of Grass. Franklin Evans and the embedded stories that were published separately also bear the imprint of Whitman's revisionary compositional practice. As he would in Leaves of Grass, which appeared in several different editions over the course of the nineteenth century, Whitman revised and recycled his temperance tale, updating it to fit a new time, print format, publication context, and authorial state of mind. And, finally, Franklin Evans offers a striking example of Whitman writing in the context of the tumultuous reform climate of the antebellum era, and in the spirit of popular sentimental and melodramatic fiction. Despite—or perhaps because of—its casual reproduction of nineteenth-century racialist stereotypes and pro-slavery discourses, its narrative hiccups, and its flamboyant melodrama, the novel stands as a revealing glimpse into Whitman's own development as a writer: a tale of the poet, as well as "a tale of the times."
Our publication of Franklin Evans is based on the first 1842 version, published as an extra edition of The New World under the full title Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate: A Tale of the Times. Another version of the novel, described as an "off print from the New World" or "the 1843 edition," was titled Franklin Evans: Knowledge is Power. The Merchant's Clerk in New York, or the Career of a Young Man from the Country. By all reports, this version is identical to the 1842 edition, with the exception of the title. These versions are described in William G. Lulloff, "Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate," in J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). Neither Lulloff nor Thomas L. Brasher, in his The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: NYU Press, 1963), mentions variants between the 1842 and 1843 versions, other than the title.
An additional version is mentioned by Charles M. Oliver in his "Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate: A Tale of the Times (1842)," in Critical Companion to Walt Whitman: A Literary Reference to his Life and Work (New York: Facts on File, 2006). Oliver describes a reprint by The New World in 1843, titled Franklin Evans; or the Merchant's Clerk: A Tale of the Times and a separate "off-print," published by J. Winchester in New York (no date), retitled Franklin Evans: Knowledge is Power. The Merchant's Clerk, in New York; or Career as a Young Man from the Country. The listing for Franklin Evans in Joel Myerson's Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography (Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh Press, 1993) suggests this may be at least partly a confusion based on bindings: what Myerson describes as "Binding C" is an undated paper wrapper with the title The Merchant's Clerk, in New York; or the Career of a Young Man from the Country. This binding, advertising the novel as part of a "Books for the People" series, also includes the words "Knowledge is Power" in a top border. Myerson describes all of these as a single printing. Michael Winship has written in response to an email inquiry that:
My working hypothesis is that there was a single printing, though if plates were made there could be several that are indistinguishable one from another. I'm guessing that each number of the New World consisted of just 32 pages, and that vol. 2, no. 10, was made up of "Franklin Evans" followed by a page of ads. This was sent or delivered, probably without wrappers, to those who subscribed to the magazine (Myerson's entry E 159; as a periodical not eligible for the Bibliography of American Literature). Extra sheets were also (either simultaneously or later) issued with wrapper (BAL binding 1; Myerson's binding 2) as a New World extra and sold chiefly through periodical depots. Not before May 1843, extra sheets were issued at half price in a different wrapper, different title (BAL binding 2; Myerson's binding 3) in the Books for the People series.
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2. For the text of the notice, see Brasher, The Early Poems and the Fiction, 124n1. Hereafter, EPF. [back]
4. For J. G. Schumaker's account of Whitman at the "Bohemian resort," see Perry, Walt Whitman, 28. [back]
5. For the various versions of events surrounding the composition of Franklin Evans, see Brasher, EPF, 124–125n1. [back]
8. For the complete text of the announcement, see Brasher, EPF, 124n1. [back]
12. For a more complete history of William Wisdom and his presidency of the New York Washingtonians, see the Journal of the American Temperance Union of April 1841. His presidency is also noted in the Christian Reflector of April 28, 1841, and The New Yorker of May 22, 1841. Maxwell credits him and J. W. Oliver with founding the Martha Washington societies in New York City as well (qtd. in Maxwell, "The Washingtonian Movement," 423). [back]
13. For an extended history of the Washington Temperance Societies, see Crowley, Drunkard's Progress; Dannenbaum, Drink and Disorder; and Maxwell, "The Washingtonian Movement." [back]
14. For discussions of such revisions to the poetry, see Folsom, "Erasing Race," and Sanchez-Eppler, "To Stand Between." [back]
15. For an example of the former, see Murphy, "Enslaved Bodies"; for an example of the latter, see Gautier, "The 'Creole' Episode." Both claim that Whitman in this episode asserts a fundamental distinction between the "enslavement" of Northern white males to intemperance and chattel slavery in the South. Gautier argues that this represents Whitman criticizing the comparison and subverting the genre; Murphy that this reiterates proslavery paternalist doctrine and disrupts the narrative of possessive individualism while also asserting a fundamental distinction between whiteness and blackness. See also Henry, "Slavery and Civic Recovery," who like Murphy reads Margaret as an externalization of Evans's desire, and claims that free citizenship and white self-mastery in Franklin Evans depend on the existence of slavery. [back]
16. For a discussion of the definition, history, and significance of creolization in the early Americas, see Bauer and Mazzotti, "Introduction." They write that the word "creole" was "most likely derived from a Latin root (creare, to make, to create, that is, something new)" and note that it first appeared as a Portuguese word to distinguish slaves born in Brazil from those born in Africa (3). For "creole"—in this case representing the idea of mixture—as an alternative to "vernacular" in Whitman criticism, see Arac, "Whitman and Problems of the Vernacular." Arac notes of "creole" that "the term in itself carries no specification of color or race, except insofar as it distinguishes the creoles both from immigrants or transients of the colonizing area and from the aboriginal or indigenous population" (49). [back]
17. See Gautier, "The 'Creole' Episode," 44–50. [back]
18. In Walt Whitman's America, David Reynolds has noted that, after the publication of Franklin Evans, "the rise of antiextensionism, culminating in the 1848 Buffalo Free-Soil Convention, pushed [Whitman] in a more radical direction" (126). But as Folsom has pointed out in "Erasing Race," Leaves of Grass was not abolitionist in a conventional sense, even at its beginnings, and Whitman's struggles to reconcile the nation's divisions over slavery with the unifying potential of his poetic "I" reflect his sense of the impossiblity as much as the importance of the reconciliation. For a discussion of the significance of race to Whitman's work—as the "now-hidden source of some of the radical energy of Whitman's poetry and prose"—and the manifestations of Whitman's thinking about this topic in the early notebooks and manuscripts, see Folsom ("Erasing Race," 4) and Price, To Walt Whitman. It is worth noting that Whitman continued to write about Native Americans, publishing a story titled "Arrow-Tip" with Native American characters in the Aristidean in March 1845, and including several scenes with Native Americans in "Song of Myself." In Walt Whitman's Native Representations, Folsom argues that Whitman was internally conflicted about matters of race, for example writing extensively and contradictorily about Native Americans. Yet in his published work, critics agree, the mythic trope of the "vanishing Indian" predominated. [back]
19. See Brasher, EPF, and Castiglia, et al., Franklin Evans. [back]
20. It is difficult not to note the resonance of Holloway's editorial treatment of Franklin Evans with his reluctance to admit Whitman's homosexuality, his postulation that Whitman was romantically involved with a Creole woman in New Orleans, and his search for Whitman's offspring. [back]
21. See Murphy, "Enslaved Bodies," and Hendler, "Bloated Bodies." [back]