Title: About "Some Fact-Romances"
Author: Stephanie Blalock
Publication information: Written for the Walt Whitman Archive. First published on the Archive in 2017.
Whitman Archive ID: anc.02102
"Some Fact-Romances" consists of an introduction and five short tales, each individually numbered with Roman numerals, that were published in the December 1845 issue of The Aristidean. At the opening of the story, Whitman explains that the series represents a set of true anecdotes, and this first printing is the only known time that all five tales appeared together. This is also the only set of tales for which Whitman composed short, individual selections and printed them all together under a single title.
The first Fact-Romance centers on a young man on a boating excursion with his sister and his fiancée. A tragic accident occurs and the young man is left to choose between saving the life of his sister or that of the young woman he is to marry. Leaving his sister, he rescues his fiancée, but he is unable to save his sister despite beginning a search for her as soon as his fiancée is safely on dry land. The couple survives, but the young man eventually dies as a result of his grief over his choice and his sister’s drowning.1 The second tale centers on an African-American widow who saves a deaf and mute girl of about twelve or thirteen years of age from the stable-boys who lounge on Broadway and from the girl's intemperate parents who neglect her and fail to provide for her care and safety. The widow collects small sums of money for the young girl until she has enough money to send her to an asylum or school for the deaf and dumb. Like Kate, the title character of Whitman's short story "Dumb Kate.— An Early Death," this young girl is deaf and mute. However, in this case, the widow manages to save the young girl in this Fact-Romance from being seduced and deceived by a young man, and it is that intervention that ensures the young girl does not share the same fate as Kate.
In the third Fact-Romance, a wife consults a physician about her illness. She later dies, and her husband goes mad. In the fourth story, a runaway thief takes the time to visit a pawnbroker to retrieve an item that had belonged to his mother, and as a result, he is captured. In the fifth and final tale, a narrator relates a story in which his mother and grandmother, awaiting the return of his grandfather during a storm, hear the sound of peaches falling from a limb that has been brought in to adorn the mantel of a neighboring room, and think it is a ghost.2
The Aristidean was a general monthly magazine edited by Dr. Thomas Dunn English, author of a popular sentimental ballad entitled "Ben Bolt." Only one volume of the magazine was ever published. In addition to short tales like Whitman's, The Aristidean published poetry, book reviews, biographies, travel pieces, and articles on literature and politics.3 The Aristidean also published three additional pieces of Whitman's fiction: "Arrow-Tip" and "Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem," in the March 1845 issue, and "Richard Parker's Widow," in the April 1845 issue. That same year, Whitman also reprinted "The Death of Wind-Foot" and "The Boy-Lover" in The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art, and Science.
No reprints of "Some Fact-Romances" that include all five sketches have been discovered. Some of the sketches were, however, reprinted separately and circulated in New York in the mid-1840s.4 Whitman revised and reprinted the first, second, and fifth tales himself in the The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat in 1846, while he served as editor of that paper.5 During his two-year editorship (1846–1848), Whitman published items about fiction in the Eagle, and he also showed renewed interest in short stories he had written just a few years earlier. He revised and reprinted his only temperance novel and thirteen of his short fiction pieces, including three of the five Fact-Romances, which he published individually with new titles, in the paper.6 The first Fact-Romance was reprinted in the December 16, 1846, issue of the Eagle with the title, "A Fact-Romance of Long Island." The second Fact-Romance was published in the November 12, 1846, issue of the Eagle with the title "The Old Black Widow" and a parenthetical note that reads "a narrative the truth of whose essentials is vouched for by the Editor of this print." The fifth Fact-Romance was reprinted in the December 24, 1846, issue of the paper, with the title "An Incident on Long Island Forty Years Ago." Several of the revisions and additions to three of the five "Fact-Romances" made or authorized by Whitman prior to reprinting them as stand-alone works of short fiction are recorded in our footnotes. For a complete list of additions and revisions to the original Aristidean (1845) versions of the stories made or authorized by Whitman prior to reprinting them in the Eagle in 1846, see Thomas Brasher's The Early Poems and the Fiction.7
One of the Fact-Romances, that which Whitman reprinted in the Eagle as "An Incident on Long Island Forty Years Ago," was also reprinted in the Spirit of the Times on January 30, 1847, and in The Long Island Farmer and Queens County Advertiser on February 9, 1847.8 Whitman did not choose to include any of the Fact-Romances in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days and Collect (1882), in which he reprinted a selection of his short stories.
3. Frank Luther Mott, "The Aristidean," in A History of American Magazines: 1741–1850, vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1930), 347. [back]
4. 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]
5. For full citations and further information about reprints of the individual sketches collected in "Some Fact-Romances," as well as "An Incident on Long Island Forty Years Ago," 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): 236–237. [back]
6. 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), "The Love of Eris.—A Spirit Record" (August 18, 1846; formerly "Eris; A Spirit Record"), "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), "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 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]
7. Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 319–326. [back]
8. See "An Incident on Long Island Forty Years Ago," Spirit of the Times; A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature, and the Stage, January 30, 1847, 584; "An Incident on Long Island Forty Years Ago," The Long Island Farmer and Queens County Advertiser, February 9, 1847, . See also Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography; Blalock, "Bibliography of Walt Whitman's Short Fiction in Periodicals," 236–237. [back]