Title: The Madman
Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as The Author of "Franklin Evans"]
Date: January 28, 1843
Whitman Archive ID: per.00330
Source: New York Washingtonian and Organ, January 28, 1843: . Transcribed from digital images of a microfilm reproduction of an original issue. The microfilm is held by the New York Public Library. Some parts of the print are illegible in the microfilm, because of damage to the issue. This portion of the text has been supplied from Walt Whitman, Early Poems and Fiction, ed. Thomas L. Brasher (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 240–243, and appears in brackets below.
Contributors to digital file: Stephanie Blalock and Nicole Gray
cropped image 1
BY THE AUTHOR OF "Franklin Evans."1
The [little] tables of one of the large eating houses [in the upper] part of Fulton street, were crowded.3 [It was an hour] past noon. At that time, all classes [of our] citizens, except they who aspire to rank among the fashionable, or in the neighborhood of fashionable, either are engaged in the pleasant business of eating, or take measures for soon being so. The waiters, in their shirt sleeves, hurried to and fro, obeying the mandates of the customers. The carvers and cooks, at a little place partitioned off in a corner in the back part of the room, were tasked to their utmost. Knives and forks jingled, plates clattered, the names of the variety of dishes were sung out without a moments cessation.
It might have been noticed, by the curious eye, that nine out of ten who sought the accommodation there, gulped down their food with the most alarming haste, and in a manner which inferred that the crisis of some important transaction were just on the eve of happening—and its favorable conclusion depended on the celerity of mastication and swallowing. The large plain clock, at the top of the back wall, received many a hurried glance—as though the eaters timed themselves, and sought to get through the dining operations, within a given movement of the minute hands.
And there were two features which an observer might have noticed with great satisfaction. Each customer, upon finishing his meal, walked up to the counter and paid for it, according to his own computation—his own honesty being the only bar between a little petty cheating and the fair payment for what he had been served with. It is asserted that the instances of deception, from customers, are so rare as hardly to deserve mention. What a pleasant commentary on the attacks of foreign slanderers with respect to our national integrity! The second feature was the absence of any ardent liquors—no temptation existing for any one to nullify the healthy action of the powers of the stomach upon what had been eaten, by drinking the unwholesome draught.
When the business and the confusion were at the highest, the door opened and admitted Richard Arden. Who was Richard Arden?
Any one who has been familiar with life and people in a great city cannot have failed to notice a certain class, mostly composed of young men, who occupy a kind of medium between gentility and poverty. By soul, intelligence, manners, and a vague good taste, they assimilate to the former method. By irresolution of mind, evil acquaintances, a kind of romance which pervades the character, an incapacity for the harder and tougher and more profitable purposes of life, they attach to the latter. Poverty, too, many times, is the source of much meanness. It causes the commission of a thousand things which result at last in the brushing off from the unfortunate poor one, of that fine sensitiveness which forms the most exquisite trait in the character of a true gentleman—that character which it ought to be our highest ambition to attain. I don't know, either, whether it may not be wrought out as well by a person surrounded with the disagreeables of want, and ill-breeding—as by one who has all the advantages of society and fashion. Let me make an impression in this passing remark, good reader.
Richard Arden had but fifteen cents in his pocket—and with that he intended to purchase his dinner. He had no certainty that he could get another meal afterward. Yet he was not cast down in spirit. He held his head well aloft. He bore upon his countenance the expression of one whose mind was but little agitated. He was a philosopher.
"Pork and beans, No. 8!" sung out Irish John, the waiter.
The words themselves may seem identified with any thing in the world but refinement and romance. But they involve quite an amount of comfort, nevertheless. The smoking plate was brought—the crispy brown upon one side, and the rich fat slice of meat upon the other. Young Arden applied himself with great cheerfulness to the matter of devouring the savory viand.
What a hubbub! What a clatter of knives and forks!
One of the surest tests of good breeding is the manner of performing the little duties of meals and the table. A person whose fork dashes into the food before him, and whose knife divides it with the ferocity of a wild beast, has been unfortunate in his earlier education; and one remnant, at least, of the manners of a clown is still resident with him. Hurry is a vulgar trait, at best. At the table it becomes doubly so—inconsistent with health and prudence, as with decorum and enjoyment.
Our hero—for the reader has doubtless seen that the personage to whom he has been introduced is so—our hero was unexceptionable in the matter to which we have just alluded. Though in our establishment, and surrounded by companions, that would have shocked the fastidious delicacy of an Astor House boarder, or one whose dining hour was five or six o'clock, Arden comported himself with the quiet and deliberation which are at the root of good taste.4 So we think we have established for our principal character a claim to be considered a gentleman—an important point.
At the opposite side of the table sat a man of rather pleasant countenance, whom Arden had seen some few times previous, and with whom, on the present occasion, he happened to enter into some [light] talk. As they discussed their dinner, they [discussed one] or two of the ordinary topics of conversation. For some ten or fifteen minutes, [illegible].
[How strangely] we form acquaintances! How [strange,] indeed, and how complete a matter of [chance,] are many of those incidents and occurrences which have a lasting influence on a future destiny—trivial, as they seem at first, but potent for good or evil, in the future.
Arden and the pleasant-faced man, whose name was Barcoure, happened to get through their meal at the same time—to pay at the counter together—and to walk forth into the street together. Then they happened to be going a block or two in the same direction.
Why was it that they became acquaintances—and, ereare long, friends?
I cannot tell. At first they saw little or nothing—the one in the mind or manners of the other—to attract an admiration or respect in unwonted degree. Yet the next day, when they happened to meet, they bowed. The next day, each gave the other his name. The next week, they were on the footing of intimacy and familiarity.
Barcoure was a young man—like my hero. Indeed it may be found, before the end of my story, that the right of main personage may lie between the two. He was of French descent—his father having come to America just after the downfall of the Napoleon dynasty, imbued with that fierce radicalism and contempt for religion which marked the old French revolution, and which still lingers among a by no means small portion of the people of that beautiful and noble country. The son inherited the sentiments, with the blood, of his father. His infidelity and his disregard of all the ties which custom and piety have established, more tempered with more discretion than his father had possessed—but they were none the less firm.
Perhaps I am not fully justifiable in calling Barcoure an infidel.5 He had ideas of morality and virtue, and, to a degree, practiced them. His system was a beautiful and a simple one—in theory—based upon a foundation of stern and strict and rigorous correctness of conduct. He rejected all of what he called the superstitions of mankind. He held that each code of religion contained more or less excellence—and more or less fanaticism. A strange and dreamy creature was Pierre Barcoure.
And before I advance any farther, it were well for me to remind the reader that I seek to paint life and men, in my narrative—describing them in such manner, and putting such words into their mouths, as may seem to make the portratures truthful ones. In what they say, I hold no responsibility.
SoTo these two—Pierre and young Arden—became near and dear to one another.
Their friendship was not of that grosser kind which is rivetted by intimacy in scenes of dissipation. Many men in this great city of vice are banded together in a kind of companionship of vice, which they dignify by applying to it the word which stands second at the beginning of this paragraph. How vile a profanation of a holy term!
[To be continued.]6
1. "The Madman" and the short story "Reuben's Last Wish" were unknown to twentieth-century literary critics until their rediscovery by prominent Whitman scholar Emory Holloway in 1956. Holloway announced both finds in the January 1956 issue of American Literature: see Emory Holloway, "More Temperance Tales by Whitman," American Literature 27 (January 1956): 577–578. These two chapters, the only parts of Whitman's "The Madman" that have been discovered, were published approximately two months after his temperance novel Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate. A Tale of the Times was printed in an extra edition of The New World in November 1842. For more information on "The Madman" and its possible connections to Franklin Evans, see "About 'The Madman.'" [back]
2. A potential source for this epigraph is Matthew G. "Monk" Lewis's "The Captive," a monodrama about a woman imprisoned in a madhouse by her husband in spite of her protests. Lewis writes, "For lo, yon—while I speak—! Mark yonder daemon's eye-balls glare!" See M. G. Lewis, "The Captive; A Tragic Scene in a private Madhouse," The New Monthly Magazine, 1836, 317–320. [back]
3. Fulton Street is located in New York City's Financial District in Lower Manhattan. Whitman worked for newspapers that had offices on Fulton Street, including the Long Island Patriot in 1831 and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which he edited from 1846 to 1848. [back]
4. John Jacob Astor built the Astor House, which was located in Lower Manhattan across from New York City Hall Park. It opened in 1836 and became the most prestigious and well-known hotel in the United States. [back]
5. An infidel is a person who does not accept a particular religion or who does not believe in religion. [back]
6. Although the New York Washingtonian and Organ indicates that "The Madman" is "to be continued," no additional installments have ever been located. [back]