Title: About "Eris; A Spirit Record"
Author: Stephanie Blalock
Publication information: Written for the Walt Whitman Archive. First published on the Archive in 2017.
Whitman Archive ID: anc.02094
"Eris; A Spirit Record" was first published in The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine (often referred to simply as The Columbian Magazine) in March 1844. It is a brief story about Dai, an invisible spirit and guardian angel who has been sent to watch over Eris, a sick woman. Dai falls in love with Eris, despite the fact that she is happily betrothed, and hastens her passing. After Eris dies, Dai is chastised and blinded by an archangel for his actions. Despised by Eris for his transgression, he wanders earth and heaven, calling her name, and able to see nothing but the last scene of her human life. Meanwhile, Eris waits and watches at the "portals of Heaven" for her betrothed. The moral of the story appears at the end, where Whitman writes, "Thus the tale is told in Heaven, how the pure love of two human beings is a sacred thing, which the immortals themselves must not dare to cross."1
In addition to "Eris; A Spirit Record," two other short stories by Whitman involve angels who similarly comfort or watch over their charges. "The Child's Champion," for example, lingers on the scene in which an angel kisses both Charlie, a young boy, and Lankton, the young bachelor-about-town who had rescued Charlie from a violent and drunken sailor. In "The Angel of Tears," Whitman also writes about an angel who comforts a man condemned for killing his brother.2
John Inman, who was himself a contributor to many periodicals, edited The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine, which was intended to compete with Graham's Magazine. Like Graham's, The Columbian Magazine included poetry, book reviews, and largely sentimental prose. During the first two years of its run, at the time Whitman's story appeared, the magazine included a piece of music and a colored fashion plate in each number. Besides Whitman, other contributors to the magazine included Park Benjamin (who had helped found The New World), the temperance writer T. S. Arthur, and leading women writers including Lydia Maria Child and Catherine M. Sedgwick.3 In the opening number, Inman hailed the ability of the magazine, like The Columbian, to "unite the certain attractions of a popular author with the chances of an able but unknown candidate."4
In 1844, The Columbian Magazine published four of Whitman's short stories. In addition to "Eris; A Spirit Record," The Columbian Magazine also published "The Child and the Profligate" (published in October 1844, this was a revised version of Whitman's "The Child's Champion," first published in The New World on November 20, 1841), "Dumb Kate.—An Early Death" (May 1844), and "The Little Sleighers" (September 1844).
Whitman revised and reprinted the story himself under the title of "The Love of Eris.—A Spirit Record" on August 18, 1846, in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, while he was serving as the editor of that paper. During his two-year editorship (1846–1848), Whitman published items about fiction in the Eagle, and he showed renewed interest in the fiction he had written just a few years earlier. He revised and reprinted his only temperance novel and thirteen of his own short fiction pieces—including the story of Eris—in the paper.5 On the same page of that issue of the Eagle, just before the beginning of "Eris," Whitman also included a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow titled "Footsteps of Angels." Several of Whitman's revisions to the language of "Eris" for publication in the Eagle are recorded in our footnotes. For a complete list of revisions to the language of the story made or authorized by Whitman for publication in the Eagle, see Thomas Brasher's The Early Poems and the Fiction.6
The story of "Eris" does not seem to have been reprinted often in nineteenth-century periodicals.7 However, it was copied in The Monthly Hesperian and Odd Fellows Literary Magazine in May 1850, and it was reprinted under the title "A Spirit Record" in The Press (Philadelphia, PA) on January 20, 1860.8
What makes "Eris" unique among Whitman's short stories is that the tale was republished in at least two annual gift books, first in The American Historical Annual (1853) and again in The Lady's Companion Annual in 1855. A description of The American Historical Annual can be found in Joel Myerson's bibliography of Whitman's works.9
Whitman did not choose to include the story in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days and Collect (1882), in which he reprinted a selection of his short stories.
1. For more, see Patrick McGuire, "Love of Eris: A Spirit Record, The (1844)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998), 412. [back]
2. Whitman's attention to the theme of spirits and angels reflected an interest shared by a large number of people in the nineteenth century. Belief in spirits formed the foundation of modern American spiritualism, a popular nineteenth-century religious movement that originated in upstate New York in the 1840s and was influenced by the writings of Swedish philosopher Emmanuel Swedenborg and German physician Franz Mesmer. Most of Whitman's fiction was published before spiritualism emerged as a coherent movement, but Whitman's incorporation of spirits and angels is one of the ways in which the fiction draws on the preoccupations of his nineteenth-century moment. [back]
3. See Frank Luther Mott, "The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine," in A History of American Magazines: 1741–1850, vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1930), 743–744. [back]
4. See The Editor [John Inman], "Magazine Literature," The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine 1 (January 1844): –5. [back]
5. For more information about Whitman's editorship at The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, see Dennis K. Renner, "Brooklyn Daily Eagle," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, 79–80. As editor of the Eagle, Whitman also revised and reprinted "Wild Frank's Return" (May 8, 1846), "The Half-Breed; A Tale of the Western Frontier" (June 1–6 and 8–9, 1846; formerly "Arrow-Tip"), "A Legend of Life and Love" (June 11, 1846), "Dumb Kate—An early death" (July 13, 1846), "One Wicked Impulse! (A tale of a Murderer escaped.)" (September 7–9, 1846; formerly "Revenge and Requital; A Tale of a Murderer Escaped"), "Fortunes of a Country-Boy" (November 16–30, 1846; a significantly revised version of the temperance novel Franklin Evans; or, the Inebriate. A Tale of the Times), "Little Jane" (December 7, 1846), three of the five parts of "Some Fact-Romances" (the second Fact-Romance as "The Old Black Widow" on November 12, 1846, the first Fact-Romance as "A Fact-Romance of Long Island" on December 16, 1846, and the fifth Fact-Romance as "An Incident on Long Island Forty Years Ago" on December 24, 1846), "The Child and the Profligate" (January 27–29, 1847; previously printed with the same title in the Columbian Magazine), "Death in the school room" (December 24, 1847; formerly "Death in the School-Room. A Fact"), and "The Boy-Lover" (January 4–5, 1848; previously printed with the same title in The American Review). Two of Whitman's stories were reprinted in the Eagle before he became the paper's editor in March 1846. Whitman's "The Death of Wind Foot" was reprinted as a work of serial fiction (August 29–30, 1845) about two months after the story appeared in The American Review in June 1845. "Shirval—A Tale of Jerusalem" was reprinted on January 22, 1846, ten months after it was first published in The Aristidean in March 1845. [back]
6. Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 244–247. [back]
7. For full citations and further information about reprints of "Eris: A Spirit Record," see Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography. See also Stephanie M. Blalock, "Bibliography of Walt Whitman's Short Fiction in Periodicals," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 30 (2013): 232–233. [back]
8. See Walter Whitman, "Eris: A Spirit Record," The Monthly Hesperian, and Odd-Fellows' Literary Magazine 1.2 (May 1850), 63–64; "A Spirit Record," The Press, January 20, 1860, . For more information about where Whitman's fiction was reprinted, see the map of the publications and reprints of the fiction. A single location on the map may include multiple markers. To view these, click the marker on that location, and it will spiral out so you can view all publications associated with that location. To remove the spiral, click another marker or refresh the page. [back]
9. See Joel Myerson, Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993), 558. [back]