Title: About "The Little Sleighers. A Sketch of a Winter Morning on the Battery"
Author: Stephanie Blalock
Publication information: Written for the Walt Whitman Archive. First published on the Archive in 2017.
Whitman Archive ID: anc.02097
Whitman had been living in New York for almost three years when "The Little Sleighers. A Sketch of a Winter Morning on the Battery" was first published in the September 1844 issue of The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine. During this time he had edited and/or contributed to a number of New York newspapers, including The New York Aurora, a paper in which he described his affinity for walking along Broadway to the Battery, a popular promenade, in Manhattan. In an untitled article published on April 6, 1842, Whitman wrote, "we took our cane, (a heavy, dark, beautifully polished, hook ended one,) . . . and sauntered forth to have a stroll down Broadway to the Battery." He went on to describe how he entered the "ponderous iron gates which give ingress to the Battery" and "strolled along . . . Gotham's glorious promenade." He even observes a group of children playing a game while he walks, a scene that bears some resemblance to that he will later describe in "The Little Sleighers," with the primary difference that the story is set in winter, while the newspaper article describes the Battery in the Spring.1
"The Little Sleighers," which is likely based in part on Whitman's personal experience of walking the route from Broadway to the Battery, takes place in winter amid gusty winds and "icicle-tipped trees."2 As the narrator of the story walks past St. Paul's Church and Trinity grave-yard to the Battery, he ponders the pleasures and delights of childhood as he describes the children sledding in the snow. Much like the bachelor narrator of "My Boys and Girls," closely identified with Whitman himself, the narrator of this sketch insists that the way to remain young at heart, so to speak, is to see and interact with the youths he encounters. Also, like "My Boys and Girls," this story too turns to the fleeting nature of youth and childhood and meditates on the death of children. The narrator even goes so far as to explain that he "know[s] not a prettier custom" than the practice of putting flowers on the corpse of a dead child because flowers, like youth, fade rapidly after blooming and are, therefore, the best emblems of those who die young. The narrator concludes that although death awaits all youth eventually, he would prefer to remember the joyous sound of the children's voices.3 The custom of placing flowers on children's graves also appears in his short story "Dumb Kate.—An Early Death" (May 1844), which was published just four months before "The Little Sleighers," also in The Columbian Magazine. At the end of "Dumb Kate," "an idle boy" leans over young Kate's grave and drops "the bruised fragments" of a flower.4
John Inman, a contributor to many periodicals himself, edited The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine. The Columbian Magazine was intended to compete with Graham's Magazine and, like Graham's, it 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.5 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.6. In the opening number, the editor hailed the ability of the magazine to "unite the certain attractions of a popular author with the chances of an able but unknown candidate."7
In addition to "The Little Sleighers" and "Dumb Kate.—An Early Death" (May 1844), The Columbian Magazine also published two other pieces of Whitman's fiction: "The Child and the Profligate" (published in October 1844, this was a revised version of "The Child's Champion," first published in The New World on November 20, 1841), and "Eris; A Spirit Record" (March 1844).
"The Little Sleighers" does not seem to have been reprinted often, but it did appear in the September 6, 1844, issue of the Pennsylvania Inquirer and National Gazette (Philadelphia, PA).8
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.
3. For additional commentary on the plot of the story, see Patrick McGuire, "Little Sleighers, The (1844)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998), 399–400. Whitman addresses similar themes of the death of children or young people in stories like "The Reformed," "Dumb Kate.—An Early Death," "The Love of the Four Students," "Death in the School-Room," and "Reuben's Last Wish." [back]
5. 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]
6. Ibid. [back]
7. John Inman, "Magazine Literature," The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine 1 (January 1844): 3. [back]
8. See Walter Whitman, "The Little Sleighers," Pennsylvania Inquirer and National Gazette, September 6, 1844, . 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. For full citations and further information about the reprinting of "The Little Sleighers," 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): 233. [back]