Title: My Boys and Girls
Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as Walter Whitman]
Date: March or April 1844
Whitman Archive ID: per.00333
Source: The Rover 3 (March or April 1844): 75. Transcribed from digital images of a microfilm reproduction of an original issue. The microfilm is held by the University of Iowa Libraries.
Contributors to digital file: Stephanie Blalock and Nicole Gray
MY BOYS AND GIRLS.1
BY WALTER WHITMAN.
THOUGH a bachelor, I have several girls and boys that I consider my own.2 Little Louisa, the fairest and most delicate of human blossoms, is a lovely niece—a child that the angels themselves might take to the beautiful land, without tasting death.3 A fat, hearty, rosy-cheeked youngster, the girl's brother, comes in also for a good share of my affection. Never was there such an imp of mischief! Falls and bumps hath he every hour of the day, which affect him not, however. Incessant work occupies his mornings, noons and nights; and dangerous is it, in the room with him, to leave anything unguarded, which the most persevering activity of a stout pair of dumpy hands can destroy.
What would you say, dear reader, were I to claim the nearest relationship to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson?4 Yet such is the case, as I aver upon my word. Several times has the immortal Washington sat on my shoulders, his legs dangling down upon my breast, while I trotted for sport down a lane or over the fields. Around the waist of the sagacious Jefferson have I circled one arm, while the fingers of the other have pointed him out words to spell. And though Jackson is (strange paradox!) considerably older than the other two, many a race and tumble have I had with him—and at this moment I question whether, in a wrestle, he would not get the better of me, and put me flat.
One of my children—a child of light and loveliness—sometimes gives me rise to many uneasy feelings. She is a very beautiful girl, in her fourteenth year.5 Flattery comes too often to her ears. From the depths of her soul I now and then see misty revealings of thought and wish, that are not well. I see them through her eyes and in the expression of her face.
It is a dreary thought to imagine what may happen, in the future years, to a handsome, merry child—to gaze far down the vista, and see the dim phantoms of Evil standing about with nets and temptations—to witness, in the perspective, purity gone, and the freshness of youthful innocence rubbed off, like the wasted bloom of flowers. Who, at twenty-five or thirty years of age, is without many memories of wrongs done, and mean or wicked deeds performed?
Right well do I love many more of my children. H. is my "summer child."6 An affectionate fellow is he—with merits and with faults, as all boys have—and it has come to be that should his voice no more salute my ears, nor his face my eyes, I might not feel as happy as I am. M., too, a volatile lively young gentleman, is an acquaintance by no means unpleasant to have by my side. Perhaps M. is a little too rattlesome, but he has qualities which have endeared him to me much during our brief acquaintance. Then there is J. H., a sober, good-natured youth, whom I hope I shall always number among my friends. Another H. has lately come among us—too large, perhaps, and too near manhood, to be called one of my children. I know I shall love him well when we become better acquainted—as I hope we are destined to be.
Blessings on the young! And for those whom I have mentioned in the past lines, oh, may the developmentdevelopement of their existence be spared any sharp stings of grief or pangs of remorse! Had I any magic or superhuman power, one of the first means of its use would be to insure the brightness and beauty of their lives. Alas! that there should be sin, and pain, and agony so abundantly in the world!—that these young creatures—wild, frolicsomefrolocksome, and fair—so dear to me all of them, those connected by blood, and those whom I like for themselves alone—alas, that they should merge in manhood and womanhood the fragrance and purity of their youth!
But shall I forget to mention one other of my children? For of him I can speak with mingled joy and sadness. For him there is no fear in the future. The clouds shall not darken over his young head—nor the taint of wickedness corrupt his heart—nor any poignant remorse gnawknaw him inwardly for wrongs done. No weary bane of body or soul—no disappointed hope—no unrequited love—no feverish ambition—no revenge, nor hate, nor pride—no struggling with poverty, nor temptation, nor death—may ever trouble him more. He lies low in the grave-yard on the hill. Very beautiful was he—and the promise of an honorable manhood shone brightly in him—and sad was the gloom of his passing away. We buried him in the early summer. The scent of the apple-blossoms was thick in the air—and all animated nature seemed overflowing with delight and motion. But the fragrance and the animation made us feel a deadlier sickness in our souls. Oh, bitter day! I pray God there may come to me but few such!
And there is one again:—and she, too, must be in the Land of Light, so tiny and so frail. A mere month only after she came into the world, a little shroud was prepared, and a little coffin built, and they placed the young infant in her tomb. It was not a sad thing—we wept not, nor were our hearts heavy.
I bless God that he has ordained the beautiful youth and spring time! In all the wondrous harmony of nature, nothing shows more wisdom and benevolence than that necessity which makes us grow up from so weak and helpless a being as a new-born infant, through all the phases of sooner and later childhood, to the neighborhood of maturity, and so to maturity itself. Thus comes the sweetness of the early seasons—the bud and blossom time of life. Thus comes the beauty which we love to look upon—the faces and lithe forms of young children.
May it not be well, as we grow old, to make ourselves often fresh, and childlike, and merry with those who are so fresh and merry? We must grow old—for immutable time will have it so.7 Gray hairs will be sown in our heads, and wrinkles in our faces; but we can yet keep the within cheerful and youthful—and that is the great secret of warding off all that is unenviable in old age. The fountain flowing in its sweetness forever, and the bloom undying upon the heart, and the thoughts young, whatever the body may be—we can bid defiance to the assaults of time, and composedly wait for the hour of our taking away.
1. Because issues of The Rover do not include a publication date, there is some disagreement about when "My Boys and Girls" was printed. ProQuest's American Periodical Series database indicates a publication date of March 27, 1844 for Whitman's story even though that issue also includes the poem "Angels" by C.D. Stuart, which is dated "April, 1844." Thomas Brasher offers a publication date of April 20, 1844. See Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 248n1. Because the exact date of publication remains uncertain, The Walt Whitman Archive suggests March or April 1844—between March 27 and April 20, 1844—as the likely date of publication of "My Boys and Girls" in The Rover. [back]
2. This story may be, in part, autobiographical. Some of the children that the bachelor-narrator considers his own have the same names as Whitman's own siblings. For more information on the autobiographical aspects of the story and its publication, see "About 'My Boys and Girls.'" [back]
3. "Little Louisa" may be a reference to Whitman's youngest sister Hannah Louisa Whitman. For more information on Hannah Louisa, see Paula K. Garret, "Whitman (Heyde), Hannah Louisa (d. 1908)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
4. The names of these children may refer to those of three of Whitman's brothers, who were named after heroes of the Revolution and the War of 1812: Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863), George Washington Whitman (1829–1901), and Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890). For more information on Whitman's brothers and other members of his family, see the "Family Origins" section of Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price's biography, "Walt Whitman." For more information on each of Whitman's brothers, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," and Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson [1833–1890]," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia. [back]
5. Whitman may be referring to his sister Mary Whitman. Mary would have been 14 in 1835, which may mean that the sketch was written during that year. For a detailed explanation of the references to Whitman's siblings, see Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 248–249 n1. Hereafter, EPF. [back]
6. The children here who are designated only by their initials have not been identified with known friends or acquaintances of Whitman. See Brasher, EPF, 249 n1. [back]