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Introduction to Walt Whitman's Short Fiction

Introduction to Walt Whitman's Short Fiction

In J. Aaron Sanders' historical mystery Speakers of the Dead, published in March 2016, Walt Whitman, a fiction writer and Aurora journalist in 1840s New York, tries to prove the innocence of a friend whom the young Whitman believes has been wrongly executed for the murder of her husband. While the novel focuses on Whitman's investigation of suspected police corruption and the controversy over nineteenth-century body snatching,"Body snatching" refers to a widespread and controversial practice in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England and the U.S. of retrieving bodies from graves, often for purposes of medical education. For a discussion of this practice, see Shultz. there are numerous references to Whitman's fiction-writing career, including both his temperance novel Franklin Evans; or, the Inebriate. A Tale of the Times, and his short fiction works. Sanders' novel is peopled with characters who have read Franklin Evans and who have admired the stories Whitman had recently published in the prestigious literary magazine, the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, usually referred to simply as The Democratic Review. Sanders even quotes from Whitman's January 1842 short story "The Tomb-Blossoms," in which a young male narrator converses with a widow who, uncertain of the location of her husband's burial plot, brings flowers for two separate graves.See Sanders, Speakers of the Dead, 249–250.

By 1843, the year in which Sanders' novel opens, Whitman had published "The Tomb-Blossoms" and seven other pieces of short fiction in The Democratic Review; he had also placed fiction in The New World and The New York Observer, among other newspapers. His novel Franklin Evans had sold thousands of copies, and he had begun to publish "The Madman," presumably a longer fiction work, of which only two chapters have ever been discovered. The publication of Sanders' novel characterizing Whitman as a brazen and egotistical young reporter and a newly-minted, yet successful novelist and short story writer, marks a renewed interest in Whitman's career as a fiction writer and his literary contributions prior to the publication of the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855. But Speakers of the Dead is far from the only resurfacing of the short fiction that Whitman wrote over a seven-year period, from 1841 to 1848, the years during which he published the earliest versions of all of his known fiction works.

Whitman's short stories have been revived in a variety of print and digital media in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. His "One Wicked Impulse!," a revised and retitled version of the story first printed as "Revenge and Requital; A Tale of a Murderer Escaped," was adapted for television in the 1950s. Whitman's story focuses on Adam Covert, a lawyer who attempts to use his position as the guardian of orphaned siblings Philip and Esther Marsh to force Esther to marry him. As a result of both a long night of drinking and Covert's threats to leave the siblings penniless if Esther does not submit to the marriage, Philip murders his guardian, but later has to face Covert's sons—the children he has made fatherless—during a cholera epidemic in New York City. According to Andrew Jewell and Kenneth M. Price, Fred Ziv intended to devote an episode of his "Favorite Story TV" to Arthur Fitz-Richard's adaptation of Whitman's story, but it is uncertain if the episode ever actually aired (347–48). In addition to this potential television debut, Whitman's fiction has made significant, if sporadic, appearances in print and digital publications. On May 31, 1919, the one hundredth anniversary of Whitman's birth, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle published a special "Walt Whitman Centenary Number" that reprinted two of his stories, "A Legend of Life and Love" and "Wild Frank's Return," as part of a retrospective look back at the poet's writing career.See "Wild Frank's Return" and "A Legend of Life and Love" in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle's "Walt Whitman Centenary Number," May 31, 1919, on pages 9-10, & 10, respectively. Likewise, on March 26, 2014, the 122nd anniversary of Whitman's death, the online edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle again paid tribute to Whitman, this time by reprinting his ominously titled tale, "Death in the School-Room."See Zacharakos, "Walt Whitman's 'Death in the School-room' in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1847." While Whitman served as editor of the Eagle, he had published this tale of a merciless schoolmaster flogging an already dead child in revised form on the front page of the paper on Christmas Eve 1847—a little more than six years after The Democratic Review printed the original version in August 1841.

The past several decades have also led to a resurgence of critical interest in Whitman's fiction. As race and sexuality have become key sites of analysis in studies of American literature more broadly, critics have found in the fiction fertile ground for exploring Whitman's early engagement with these topics. Vivian Pollak has cast the fiction—and his decision to stop writing it—as evidence of Whitman's increasing tendency in his writing to reject sentimental and traditional family ties in favor of homosocial and homoerotic bonds. Thomas Gannon and Amina Gautier have demonstrated the complex interplay between race and gender manifested by Whitman's Native American and African American characters in "Arrow-Tip" and Franklin Evans, respectively. Michael Warner and Jean Downey have explored the role of temperance and temperance reform in Franklin Evans, Warner connecting temperance to broader notions of national identity, publicity, and belonging. Michael Moon has shown that Whitman's revisions to his "The Child and the Profligate" toned down considerably the homoeroticism of the first version of that story, a practice that both anticipates later revisions in Leaves of Grass and emphasizes fluidity as a central metaphor and defining characteristic of Whitman's texts.

This renewed interest in Whitman's fiction career may signal a revaluing of his fiction and, even more importantly, it provides a unique opportunity to reevaluate the role of the early fiction in Whitman's writing career and in formulating his reputation as America's poet. Re-examining each piece of Whitman's short fiction and reconsidering all of his fiction as part of a significant body of pre-Leaves of Grass work is especially revelatory. These stories reflect Whitman's engagement with and experiences of 1840s New York and his understanding of the literary marketplace from the perspective of a printer, writer, and editor. The publishing history and circulation of the fiction may represent Whitman's first moments of popularity with readers and may constitute some of his earliest encounters with international audiences. The fiction also features some of Whitman's earliest and most explicit treatments of race and sexuality, subjects that would define his poetry, even as they often hovered just beneath its surface. Although Whitman's fiction was published more than 160 years ago, it allows today's readers to witness his development as a writer, to better understand his efforts to grow and sustain a large popular readership around his writings, and to trace the emergence of various themes and editorial practices that would continue long after his fiction career came to an end.

Walter Whitman as Author, Editor, and Journalist

Both the years leading up to the publication of Whitman's earliest known piece of fiction in August 1841 and, later, the professional roles he would take on while he was writing his stories almost certainly influenced the content and editorial decisions Whitman made regarding his fiction. According to Price and Ed Folsom, beginning in 1836 and extending for five years until 1841, Whitman became a teacher, boarding with his students' families while he worked long hours in the village schools of approximately ten Long Island towns. "Death in the School-Room. A Fact," may have drawn on his personal experiences as a teacher and his understanding of the educational practices of the period. In the tale, a strict and cruel schoolmaster named Lugare flogs the young Tim Barker for the crimes of thievery and falling asleep in class. It is only after severely thrashing the wrongfully accused Barker with a rattan cane that Lugare realizes the reason Tim is not howling in pain because he has died at his desk. The story's conclusion hinges on the revelation that Lugare had been flogging the child's lifeless corpse while the rest of his students watched in horror. Writing for the Evening Post in 1909, Willis Steel claims that Whitman wrote "Death in the School-Room" in the winter of 1841 while he was teaching at Babylon. Steel called the tale "weirdly Hawthornesque" and contended that Whitman "told his whist playing friends to whom he read it in manuscript" that it was based in part on an incident that had actually occurred in the village (4). At the end of his time as a schoolteacher, Whitman, then twenty-two years old, submitted the manuscript to The Democratic Review, a prestigious literary journal. The publication of the story in the August 1841 issue of the journal seems to mark the beginning of the journal's extended publishing relationship with Whitman and the official start of his fiction-writing career.

Whitman did not, then, have a sequential career as, first, a journalist, then an editor, and then a fiction writer. Nor was there an easily discernible path leading from his early conventional rhyming poetry and his fiction to the experimental poetry that emerged in the first edition of Leaves of Grass. From November 1841 until September 1842, Whitman submitted seven more short stories to The Democratic Review, which were published approximately every other month. The New World newspaper published his poem entitled "Each Has His Grief" and a temperance story, "The Child's Champion," both of which appeared in the November 20, 1841, issue of the paper.For more information about the first printings of Whitman's early poetry in periodicals, see "Whitman's Poems in Periodicals." At the same time, he was submitting his early poetry to several periodicals and it was published in the Aurora, the Long Island Democrat, the New Era, and Brother Jonathan, among others. In February 1842, approximately one month after Whitman's poem "Ambition" was printed in Brother Jonathan and he sold his fourth short story, "The Tomb Blossoms," to The Democratic Review, he was named the editor of the New York Aurora, a daily paper with a circulation of about 5,000 that he would edit until April 1842.For Whitman's contributions to the New York Aurora, see "Whitman's Journalism." During his time with the Aurora, he reported on a temperance parade and even a temperance meeting hosted by the Washington Temperance societies in New York, a movement whose approach to social reform—befriending the drunkard and offering kindness and companionship—seems to have appealed immensely to Whitman.Whitman reported on various temperance activities, including a Washingtonian meeting, in New York for the Aurora. His "Temperance Among the Firemen" was published in the March 30, 1842, issue of the Aurora; "Scenes of Last Night" was published in the April 1, 1842 issue. Later that same year, temperance reform in general and the Washingtonian societies in particular became a common theme in Whitman's fiction, including his novel Franklin Evans and his short story "Reuben's Last Wish." Thomas Brasher speculates that "The Madman" was "intended to be a temperance novel or novelette," given that it was published in The Washingtonian and Organ, a New York temperance newspaper, approximately two months after Franklin Evans.

Examining Whitman's fiction in the context of his newspaper work and journalistic contributions reveals the extent to which his jobs as journalist and editor overlap with his authoring of poetry and fiction. Each of these roles likely fueled his fiction production as much as the publication of his fiction may have boosted his literary reputation among periodical editors that sought to hire him or to print his early poetry and journalistic pieces. As a journalist, he would report on social reform movements, look into historical events, and observe New Yorkers in their daily lives, experiences that provided settings and important context for his stories. As a newspaper editor, Whitman would have learned first-hand about the topics that appealed to New York readers, about the most popular or provocative issues of his time, and he would have understood the processes of selecting and arranging the literature and articles that addressed them. Whitman's own fiction, after all, draws on many genres popular with nineteenth-century periodical readers, including reform literature, thrilling tales of violence, murder, and intrigue, and even didactic religious and moral stories that contained sound advice for the young. His stories are peopled with men who establish homosocial and homoerotic bonds with one another, with widows, children, and struggling writers, with characters from foreign lands, and with Native Americans. They are haunted by ghosts and spirits, respected war heroes, and the spectres of crime and murder. If in the 1840s Whitman was, as he later put it, "writing stories to fill in corners, gaps, in the magazines," then his experience as editor and/or contributor to a number of periodicals neatly positioned him to fill them with short stories that audiences would want to read.See Traubel's entry in With Walt Whitman in Camden dated Friday, August 14, 1891.

Recovering and Collecting Whitman's Fiction

Beginning in August 1841, with the publication of "Death in the School-Room. A Fact," twenty-two year old Walter Whitman embarked on a seven-year fiction-writing career. The number of known short stories that Whitman wrote and published has increased as research in print and digital archives has brought new works of fiction to light. When Thomas Brasher published The Early Poems and the Fiction, a volume of The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman, in 1963, he included twenty-three short fiction works and Whitman's temperance novel, Franklin Evans, in the volume. In the early 1980s, Herbert Bergman added another story to this total with his discovery of "The Fireman's Dream: With the Story of His Strange Companion. A Tale of Fantasie" in the March 31, 1844, issue of the New York Sunday Times and Noah's Weekly Messenger, a tale that was signed "Walter Whitman."Herbert Bergman, "A Hitherto Unknown Whitman Story and Possible Early Poem," 3–15.

More recent research has also revealed what seem to be previously unknown first printings of Whitman's stories that are available now for the first time as part of the Whitman Archive's digital edition of the fiction. The newly discovered works include "The Reformed" (later "Little Jane")—the earliest version of the story of Michael who would become a temperate man following the death of his sister, Little Jane—and "The Love of the Four Students" (later "The Boy-Lover"), which follows the adventures of four close friends and law students who fall in love with the same young woman, the daughter of a tavern-keeping widow.In The Early Poems and the Fiction (hereafter EPF), Thomas Brasher reprinted later versions of both "The Reformed" and "The Love of the Four Students." When Brasher published Whitman's fiction, it was widely accepted that the first printing of the story of the death of Little Jane was its early appearance as an embedded tale within Whitman's novel Franklin Evans; or, the Inebriate. A Tale of the Times. However, recent research has revealed that the story was published as a stand-alone work that served as a preview of the novel just days before Franklin Evans was published. Brasher, unaware of the publication of "The Love of the Four Students," includes the heavily revised American Review version as the first publication of "The Boy-Lover." For a full explanation of the publication history of each version of these stories, see "About 'The Reformed'" and "About 'Little Jane.'" See also "About 'The Love of the Four Students'" and "About 'The Boy-Lover.'" It is quite possible, given these findings, that there may still be earlier printings of some of Whitman's short stories that remain to be discovered. At the same time, there may also be additional works of original fiction by Whitman in 1840s newspapers or magazines. Among Whitman's manuscripts are several pages of notes toward or, possibly, drafts of various works of fiction that may have been published but have yet to be located in the periodicals of the era.See, for example, two of Whitman's manuscripts held by Duke University: "Of a Summer Evening," which will be discussed in detail in the concluding section of this introduction, and "This Singular Young Man." Both were published first in Richard M. Bucke's Notes and Fragments. See "Of a Summer Evening," Notes and Fragments, Part 3, #136, 122–123; "This Singular Young Man," Part 3, #111, #108, 116–117, 114–115. Further investigation of print and digital archives of nineteenth-century newspapers and magazines may expand the known body of Whitman's fiction works.

While the total number of short stories authored by Whitman likely remains to be determined, what is certain is that he wrote at least 26 pieces of fiction—all of which are included in the Whitman Archive's edition of his short fiction—as well as the temperance novel Franklin Evans, which was published on the Archive in 2015. Of the 26 known pieces of short fiction by Whitman, two of them—the aforementioned tale of "The Fireman's Dream" in the March 31, 1844, issue of the New York Sunday Times and Noah's Weekly Messenger and "The Madman" in the January 28, 1843, issue of the New York Washingtonian and Organ—seem to be unfinished fragments of longer works. In both of these cases, the opening two chapters were printed in their respective newspapers and, in each issue, the second chapter is followed by "To be continued," signaling that the works are intended to be either multi-chapter works of short fiction like Whitman's "Revenge and Requital" or novels like Franklin Evans, that were to be published in serial parts across multiple newspaper issues.For more information about the publication history of each of these unfinished works, see "About 'The Fireman's Dream'" and "About 'The Madman.'" No further chapters of either work have been located. At least five of Whitman's stories—"The Child's Champion" (later "The Child and the Profligate"), "The Reformed" (later "Little Jane"), "The Love of the Four Students" (later "The Boy-Lover"), "Arrow-Tip" (later "Half-Breed") and "Revenge and Requital" (later "One Wicked Impulse")—were all retitled and, in some cases, extensively revised; the revised versions of these stories have also been included in this edition.Whitman reprinted thirteen of his own stories in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle while serving as the editor of that paper from 1846 to 1848. In the future, the Whitman Archive hopes to add images and transcriptions of the stories he published in the Eagle.

All of Whitman's known works of fiction, as well as the five retitled and revised works, first appeared in print between 1841 and 1848. They were all published first in magazines and newspapers in Whitman's native New York.The same seems to be true for most of the early poetry Whitman wrote in the 1830s and 1840s, with the exception of his poem "The Mississippi at Midnight," which was printed first in the New Orleans Daily Crescent on March 6, 1848. Whitman was then working with the Crescent: he had traveled to New Orleans with brother Jeff following his resignation or his removal as editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. As Whitman's fame grew, his poems were first published in a variety of periodicals published in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, among other states. For more information on the first printings of Whitman's poems in approximately 45 different periodicals, see "Walt Whitman's Poems in Periodicals." The first known printings of the short stories by year occurred as follows: 1841 (4); 1842 (9); 1843 (2); 1844 (5); 1845 (5); and 1848 (1).These figures that account for the number of fiction works produced by Whitman during each year of his fiction career are intended to update Herbert Bergman's previous version of this information; see Bergman, 4. Here, "The Death of Wind-Foot" is included as one of the nine stories published in 1842 because the first printing of the story was as an embedded tale in the novel Franklin Evans (1842). "Lingave's Temptation" is also included for the year of 1842 because the earliest known printing of the story is in the November 26, 1842, issue of the New-York Observer. The five retitled and revised works included in this edition were first published in these new forms between 1844 and 1846. With a few exceptions, Whitman's name is printed either before or after most of these pieces in their respective periodicals. His name is also typically included in the listings of contributors for a number of magazines either in the table of contents or in advertised lists of contributors that were often printed in New York newspapers of the period. Although Whitman's name is frequently present and the fiction works are most often attributed to "Walter Whitman," some pieces, like "Death in the School Room" and "A Legend of Life and Love" in The Democratic Review, are signed "W. W." Later, Whitman signed "The Half-Breed"—a revised version of "Arrow-Tip" that was printed in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1846—as simply "A Brooklynite," and reprints of "The Death of Wind-Foot" were sometimes attributed to "W. Whitman." At least as late as 1848, when he was twenty-nine years old, Whitman was still signing his full name, "Walter Whitman," as he did in "The Shadow and Light of a Young Man's Soul" when it was published in the Union Magazine in June of that year. This is the last known original work of fiction that Whitman published, and the Union Magazine was at least the twelfth different periodical to feature the first printing of a piece of his short fiction.

Whitman's Fiction in Periodicals

Whitman's short stories were originally published in approximately twelve newspapers and magazines in New York. But most of his stories were published in three periodicals: The Democratic Review, The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine, and The Aristidean. Nine of Whitman's short stories were printed first in The Democratic Review, more than in any other periodical. Having his first short story "Death in the School-Room" and so many other pieces of fiction published in The Democratic Review was a considerable achievement for Whitman. The magazine had and maintained a reputation for advocating liberal democratic politics while also publishing excellent literature.For a detailed history of the founding of The Democratic Review and its relationship to democratic politics and emerging American writers of the time, see Sampson. Founded by John L. O'Sullivan and Samuel Langtree, The Democratic Review began in Washington, but moved to New York in 1841.For the publication history of The Democratic Review, including a full list of titles and publishers, as well as a description of the magazine, see "The Democratic Review" in Mott, A History of American Magazines. Whitman told Horace Traubel that he had known O'Sullivan well and that O'Sullivan had been generous to him.See Traubel's entry dated Friday, April 25, 1890. According to Susan Belasco, contributors to The Democratic Review included Nathaniel Hawthorne, who published "Rappaccinni's Daughter" and twenty-four other works in the magazine, as well as Edgar Allan Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry David Thoreau, among other well-known nineteenth-century American authors.For more on the contributors to The Democratic Review, see Smith, "Democratic Review," 175–176. The December 1841 issue of the magazine, for example, included Whitman's "Bervance; or, Father and Son," as well as works by John Greenleaf Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.The full text of the entire run of The Democratic Review (1837–1859) is available as part of Cornell University Library's "Making of America" Collection. Whitman's contributions to the magazine range from "Wild Frank's Return," which features a cruel father and ends with Frank being dragged to death by his own horse, to "The Angel of Tears," in which the angel Alza comforts a convicted murderer. Whitman seems to have maintained his publishing relationship with The Democratic Review, since the magazine later published a review of Leaves of Grass titled "Walt Whitman and His Poems" that Whitman himself wrote in September 1855.

The Democratic Review had already published eight of the nine stories Whitman would place there by March 1844, when The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine published "Eris; A Spirit Record," Whitman's first contribution to the magazine. In total, the Columbian printed four of Whitman's stories, in addition to "Eris." "The Child and the Profligate," "Dumb Kate—An Early Death," and "The Little Sleighers" were all printed in 1844 alongside the book reviews, poetry, and sentimental literature that typically filled the pages of the Columbian. John Inman, a contributor to many periodicals, including The Democratic Review, edited the magazine.For more information about the Columbian Magazine, see Mott, "The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine," in A History of American Magazines, 743–744. Most of the stories Whitman contributed are sentimental tales or didactic stories that contain moral lessons or warnings for readers about the dangers of alcohol consumption in the case of "The Child and the Profligate" and about men who take advantage of the innocence and virtue of young women in the case of "Dumb Kate—An Early Death." Besides Whitman, other contributors to the magazine included Park Benjamin (who had helped found The New World), the temperance writer T. S. Arthur, and Lydia Maria Child and Catherine M. Sedgwick, among other leading women writers.Ibid. In 1844, in addition to Whitman's four tales, the magazine also featured works by Lydia Sigourney and Anna Cora Mowatt.

The short stories Whitman contributed to The Aristidean are some of the last known fiction pieces that he published; the only known tale published after four pieces of his fiction were printed in The Aristidean was "The Shadow and the Light of a Young Man's Soul," which was accepted by The Union Magazine in 1848. Edited by Thomas Dunn English, The Aristidean was a general monthly magazine that seems to have published only six issues (one complete volume); these issues generally included poetry, book reviews, and essays on politics, among other topics. Whitman's contributions to the magazine range from "Arrow-Tip," his longest work of short fiction, in which the Native American title character is ultimately hanged for a crime he did not commit, to "Richard Parker's Widow," a story based on the true account of the execution of the English sailor Richard Parker for his role in the mutiny at Nore. Thomas Dunn English seems to have been especially fond of Whitman's "Arrow-Tip," as he accepted it even though it was longer than the other works appearing in the same issue. At the back of the issue, English offered an apology, stating, "We must apologise to our readers for the length of the tale—'Arrow-Tip'—but we could not bear to cut it in two; and it was too good to be excluded."For additional commentary on various aspects of this issue of the magazine, see The Aristidean, "Our Pigeon Holes," 79. Whitman's "Some Fact-Romances" was published in the final issue of The Aristidean in December of 1845; the work consisted of five sketches, some of which are set in Whitman's native New York and all of which are supposed to be true, according to the introductory section. At the conclusion of the issue, English informs his readers that the magazine could not continue, but, given Whitman's contributions to the first volume, it is tempting to speculate that, had English not moved on to other projects, Whitman might have submitted additional works of fiction, at least until he began his editorship at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in March 1846.For English's farewell to his readers and his explanation of the ending of The Aristidean, see "Valedictory," 476.

Whitman's Fiction Thematically

Although Whitman's stories differ considerably in topics and themes, there are some consistent patterns in what Vivian Pollak has called the "composite master narrative" of the fiction (46). Like his novel Franklin Evans, most of the shorter stories are set in or near Whitman's native New York, and they focus predominantly on the adventures of youth, particularly young men. These characters are generally younger than Whitman probably was when he was writing fiction, but they face dilemmas about employment, temptation, family, and affection that may also have been on his mind. Only a few of the stories are explicitly autobiographical, but in almost all of them Whitman drew on elements of the New York world he was living in during the 1840s. Apparent in the fiction are some of the prominent reform causes of the day, like temperance and education reform, which had fiery adherents who often delivered speeches in and around New York City. Gay Wilson Allen writes that "during the first half of the century Brooklyn was always having moral crusades of some kind" (9). Whitman's earliest published story, "Death in the School-Room," speaks to an anti-corporal punishment movement that was part of a broader effort toward education reform. In the tale, the cruel schoolmaster Lugare, who frequently uses his rattan cane, is feared by all the children, a fact that culminates in his ferocious beating of the child Tim, who has died during class. Whitman himself worked as a schoolteacher not long before he began to publish fiction, and although he disliked teaching, his students reported that he favored progressive, gentle education techniques over corporal punishment.Ed Folsom and Ken Price, "Schoolteaching Years." In an article published in the Brooklyn Star on September 15, 1845, which Allen identifies as "almost certainly" Whitman's, and in a later article published in the same paper in October, the poet would condemn corporal punishment. Allen writes that "On the subject of corporal punishment he became absolutely fanatical" (69). Loving speculates that Whitman's own teachers may have used corporal punishment (31–32).

The reform movement that most visibly influenced Whitman's fiction was the temperance movement. In a variety of stories, drinking and alcohol lead to violence or dissolution. This subject, which formed the basis for Franklin Evans, appears in "The Reformed," a story that was embedded in Franklin Evans; "The Madman" and "Reuben's Last Wish," both published in temperance newspapers; "The Child's Champion," particularly the revised version; and "Wild Frank's Return." Taverns and the other temptations that await young men, particularly in the city, get glancing mention in other stories as well.Several biographers have suggested that Whitman's fixation with this topic may have been the result of alcoholism in his own family that may have affected two of his brothers (Andrew and Jesse) and his father. Loving also points out Whitman's early connection and frequent letters exchanged with Abraham Leech, a temperance advocate who may have influenced Whitman to write about temperance (71–2). The city itself forms a complex background in the fiction. In some cases, like "The Little Sleighers," the narrator explores New York landmarks and observes scenes of laughter and companionship. In others, most explicitly Franklin Evans, the city is condemned as a site of debauchery and temptation. This is not the Whitman we experience later, who was fascinated with everything that happens in the city: the city as it is presented in the fiction can be frightening, and yet its bar rooms and boardinghouses and the possibilities and excitement it represents draw people, particularly young men, like moths to a flame.For a discussion of Whitman's depiction of the city in Franklin Evans, see Castiglia and Hendler's introduction to their edition of that novel, in particular xiii-xxiii. They note that "[n]ostalgic, highly romanticized depictions of America's fading rural past are typical of reform literature of the 1840s" (xiv).

Although drinking is condemned in Whitman's stories, the fiction also generally tends to support the kindly treatment of the drunkard advocated by Washingtonian temperance organizations. Segments in a number of the early stories chide the reader for situating him or herself in a position of judgment, instead advocating forgiveness in the terms of the Washingtonians. This position is also taken in relation to crimes that do not involve drinking. It takes the form of an anti-capital punishment orientation in such tales as "Arrow-Tip," which features the execution of a Native American character for a crime he did not commit, and "Richard Parker's Widow," which presents the mutineer Parker as a noble and self-sacrificing figure. The narrator of "The Angel of Tears" reflects on crime and the innate goodness of people as an angel observes a convicted fratricide: Oh, it is not well to look coldly and mercilessly on the bad done by our fellows. That convict—that being of the bloody hand—who could know what palliations there were for his guilt? Who might say there was no premature seducing aside from the walks of honesty—no seed of evil planted by others in his soul during the early years?...Who might dare cast the first stone? Similarly, in the earliest known version of "Revenge and Requital," the narrator concludes of the redeemed main character Philip that "Some of my readers may, perhaps, think that he ought to have been hung at the time of his crime. I must be pardoned if I think differently."

Although he incorporates many other kinds of nineteenth-century reform, and although he would frame the late-nineteenth century republication of his stories in Specimen Days & Collect with a note about his interest in reform movements at the time when the fiction was composed, Whitman did not discuss abolition in the short fiction he is known to have published.In a note introducing the stories titled "One or Two Index Items," Whitman wrote that "(I was then quite an 'abolitionist' and advocate of the 'temperance' and 'anti-capital-punishment' causes)" (Complete Prose 927). A handful of free African American characters appear in the stories—the musician in "The Child's Champion;" the witness in "Revenge and Requital;" the widow in "Some Fact-Romances"—but no explicit mention is made of either slavery or abolitionism. Evidently Whitman confined his treatment of that topic in his fiction to his depiction of the south and the mixed-race character Margaret in Franklin Evans. Although Whitman came out in open support of the Wilmot Proviso, an 1846 provision that would have eliminated slavery from the new territories acquired by the U.S. as a result of the Mexican War, he also believed strongly that the preservation of the Union was more important than the elimination of slavery.Loving writes that "Whitman was more pro-Union than he was anti-slavery and favored with Lincoln the recolonization of Africans—though for Whitman the 'colony' could have been located in the United States" (12). Whitman's vociferous support of the Wilmot Proviso led to a clash with the owner and founder of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Isaac Van Anden, and eventually was probably the reason for Whitman's termination as editor of the paper. See Loving, 111. This position, combined with the increasing divisiveness of the topic, may help to explain why it does not appear in his short fiction.

The short fiction does take up some of the labor issues and nativist sentiments that informed political action and rhetoric in the mid-century U.S. Whitman's work in newspapers while he was writing and publishing his fiction caused him to be immersed in local causes and political leanings, and the topics of his editorial columns and other articles at this time often overlap with the themes that appear in his fiction. Specific historical events inform several of the stories. Cholera, outbreaks of which cropped up in New York in the 1830s and 40s, forms the means of redemption of the main character in the early versions of "Revenge and Requital." "Richard Parker's Widow" is based on the same historical events that inspired Herman Melville's Billy Budd. A footnote in the original periodical publication claims that both "Death in the School-Room" and "Wild Frank" are based on true stories, though no evidence of the factual corollaries to those stories has been found. The narrator also claims veracity for the "Fact-Romances," one of which is based on a story told to Whitman by his mother.

Whitman's own family experiences may have influenced the content of his stories. Allen has noted of Whitman's fiction that "[t]he young author seemed to have almost a compulsion to write about cruel fathers" (44). Significant either in the poverty occasioned by their absence or the oppressiveness occasioned by their presence, fathers and father figures abound in the short fiction, from the father who consigns his son to a mental institution and resulting lunacy in "Bervance," to the violent sailor in "The Child's Champion," to the murderous uncle in "The Child-Ghost." Scholars have speculated that Whitman's occasionally stormy relationship with his own father may have prompted some of this seeming preoccupation with harsh male authority figures. Structures of financial dependence also give rise to the power dynamics in several of the situations depicted in the fiction, however, perhaps suggesting a broader critique of nineteenth-century social and economic systems.

Love forms another common subject of the fiction, providing the basis for moralizing in "A Legend of Live and Love," mournful celebration in "The Tomb-Blossoms" and "Richard Parker's Widow," and sanction in "Eris; a Spirit Record." In its focus on love and the (sometimes dysfunctional) dynamics of the family, Whitman's short fiction is comparable to much of the sentimental literature popular in the U.S. at the time. A number of the stories feature widows, unattached women who serve as the heads of families. Homosocial and potentially homoerotic bonds between men appear in stories like "The Child's Champion," "The Madman," and "The Fireman's Dream." Such bonds are particularly striking in "The Love of the Four Students" (later "The Boy-Lover"), where male companionship outlasts the love interest that culminates in the deaths of both lovers.

Often appearing in tandem with love, death haunts many of the stories and gives them a gothic turn.Death was a subject of some of Whitman's early poems and journalistic pieces, as well: see Loving, 47–8. Scholars have argued that some of Whitman's fiction, like "The Angel of Tears," in which an angel visits a repentant criminal, may have been influenced by the work of Edgar Allan Poe.Asselineau, 46. For a discussion of Poe and Whitman in relation to romantic and sentimental literature more generally, see Bradford, Communities of Death. The insanity that played a memorable role in several of Poe's stories appears in Whitman's "Bervance: or, Father and Son," in which a father's vindictive treatment of his least favorite son results in the son going mad. Graphic and macabre physical violence also shapes the plot in "Wild Frank's Return," when Frank is dragged to his death by a horse, and in "The Child-Ghost," in which a cruel guardian is rumored to have beaten his nephew to death. The treatment of death in these stories does not typically resolve into the composure of the poetic speaker in Leaves of Grass, who would boast that "No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God and about death," although glimpses of this sentiment are visible in, for instance, the short story "The Tomb-Blossoms," where the narrator reflects on his own death: "There is many a time when I could lay down, and pass my immortal part through the valley of the shadow, as composedly as I quaff water after a tiresome walk."Leaves of Grass (1855), 54; "The Tomb-Blossoms," 67.

The death of children occurs in the short fiction with particular frequency. It is unclear whether Whitman's continued return to this topic in his fiction is drawn from his own experience or reflects a more general preoccupation with the subject in the nineteenth century; probably it was some combination of both.One of Whitman's siblings, an unnamed child, died after six months, when Whitman was six years old. The death of children was common in the nineteenth century, and was a common topic of sentimental and temperance literature. Harold Aspiz notes that "During Whitman's formative years, Lydia Sigourney's seemingly endless flow of sentimental stanzas charting the progress of children from death to burial and an instant elevation to angelhood achieved great popularity" (20). In one scene where Whitman describes the death of a child, in the autobiographical "My Boys and Girls," the narrator mentions the smell of apple-blossoms: "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." The poet who would go on to write "When the Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" is already associating the scent of flowers with death and burial in this and other stories like "Dumb Kate," "The Tomb-Blossoms," and "Reuben's Last Wish." The verdant growth and natural lushness of sites of burial or illness present striking juxtapositions of death and nature in several of the tales.

One of the more notable elements of Whitman's fiction is the recurrence of dreams and strange, dream-like states. Allen, noting this phenomenon, argues that the dream-state in Whitman's stories is a sign of the young writer's immaturity, or his inability to fully realize the experiences of his characters and create solid, real depictions at this early stage. But the dream world of Whitman's stories may merit deeper exploration. The sleep and dreams of his characters repeatedly introduce the space for supernatural elements, particularly spirits, offering a way to break with the real-world setting of many of his stories and providing a space for narrative experimentation. The redemptive visits of spirits to young Charley and his protector Lankton in "The Child's Champion" and to the convicted and repentant fratricide in "The Angel of Tears" occurs when those characters are asleep and dreaming. The dream-state acts as a liminal space between life and death in "Death in the School-Room": the narrator describes the schoolboy Tom as possibly dreaming a "golden dream" when Lugare attacks him. Wild Frank sleeps and dreams under the oak tree just before his death in "Wild Frank's Return." The narrator's sleep precedes his revelatory witnessing of a wife's devotion in "The Tomb-Blossoms," and the narrator's dream becomes the story in "The Last of the Sacred Army," a tale of national reverence that Whitman adapted to include in Franklin Evans.

If dreams allow the narrator to linger at the gateway between the worlds of life and death or afterlife, they also provide a way of crossing other boundaries. In "The Fireman's Dream," for instance, New York fireman George Willis is injured while responding to a fire and dreams of meeting a Native American, who tells his life story. The narration of this character, the "strange companion" of the fireman's dream, who is never named in the two existing segments of the story, is told in first person. The account begins with the following: "I am a white man by education and an Indian by birth. Within my bosom reside two opposing elements, which ever refuse to mix with one another, and often war fiercely, and rack my soul with great pain." The Native American goes on to narrate how he was found injured in the woods and taken in by a family named Boane, how he slowly learned language and went to school, and how he grew up with a fellow orphan named Anthony Clark, also adopted by the Boanes. There the second chapter of the story ends, and no further installments have been located.

This story resonates with several lines in the poem that would become "Song of Myself" describing a 'mash'd fireman" who has been crushed under a falling building: I am the mash'd fireman with breast-bone broken...tumbling walls buried me in their debris, 
Heat and smoke I inspired...I heard the yelling shouts of my comrades, 
I heard the distant click of their picks and shovels; 
They have cleared the beams away...they tenderly lift me forth.Leaves of Grass (1855), 39. This reference is to the first (1855) edition of Leaves, because it is nearest in date to the initial publication of the short fiction. The lines change slightly by the final (1881) version published in Whitman's lifetime: as elsewhere in Whitman's poetry, the ellipses are removed, and "cleared" is abbreviated to "clear'd." Folsom cites the final published version in his essay.  
Tracing this passage to a pre-1855 notebook, Ed Folsom has argued that the fireman in this description is African American, based on the following note by Whitman: Years ago I formed one of a great crowd that rapidly gathered where a building had fallen in and buried a man alive. Down somewhere in those ruins the poor fellow lurked, deprived of his liberty, perhaps dead or in danger of death.—How every body worked! How the shovels flew! And all for black Caesar—for the buried man wasn't any body else.—Folsom, "Erasing Race," 4–6. It is possible that this anecdote of "years ago" may also have informed the fragmentary "Fireman's Dream." There is no mention of the fireman's race in "The Fireman's Dream," and no evidence seems to suggest that this fireman is black. However, there is a way in which "The Fireman's Dream" speaks forward to the later episode in the poetry. As the fireman episode allows the speaker to shift into the voice of a black fireman in "Song of Myself," so in the story fragment the fireman's dream allows the speaker to shift into the voice of a Native American character, speaking to the reader through the dream-like state of the sleeping, wounded, feverish fireman. Again, the dream state becomes the space for narrative experimentation, boundary crossing, and the exploration of other perspectives, a conjunction that would also carry over to the 1855 Leaves of Grass in the form of the poem that would later be titled "The Sleepers."A notable section of "The Sleepers" is the much-discussed "Black Lucifer" section, in which Whitman speaks with the voice of a black slave, and which he revised extensively. Loving notes of "The Fireman's Dream" that "it is as dreamlike as the poem 'The Sleepers'" (79). For more on "The Sleepers," see "Walt Whitman's 'The Sleepers.'"

This sketch covers only a small handful of the many themes in the short fiction. Others range from labor, to nativism and patriotism, to the role of sound, music, and laughter, and many other topics likely to be of critical interest to scholars and of general interest to the public.For more discussion of many of these topics, and one of the most extended analytical discussions of the short fiction in general, see Pollak. Much more work remains to be done to connect such themes as they appear in these early writings to their development over the years in the poems and prose in Leaves of Grass and in Whitman's other published writings.

Reception in Whitman's Lifetime

Nineteenth-century writers—including Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne and, later, Louisa May Alcott and Metta Fuller Victor, among others—published a number of poems, short fiction pieces, and/or even novels in American periodicals. Readers of the era were accustomed to encountering works of short fiction in their newspapers and magazines. By the 1840s, the decade when Whitman published Franklin Evans and all of his known works of short fiction in New York newspapers and magazines, some periodicals were already publishing issues consisting primarily of literary fiction, while others printed works of fiction alongside essays, advertisements, and articles on the current events of the day.Smith, et al., "Periodical Literature in Social and Historical Context," 6. Yet articles that address the reception of Whitman's fiction and nineteenth-century readers' responses to it are generally rare. Unlike Whitman's novel and, later, each of his six editions of Leaves of Grass, individual short stories by Whitman were not the subject of lengthy reviews or extended commentary in the periodical press. When such commentaries on Whitman's short fiction or brief mentions of individual titles exist at all, they are typically embedded within announcements for or reviews of the journal issues in which the stories were published for the first time. By examining a selection of these materials, it is possible to piece together some evidence—drawn primarily from nineteenth-century newspapers—of the positive reception of at least a few pieces of Whitman's fiction, as well as praise for his ability as a fiction writer.

Whitman's early efforts at fiction earned him some notable mentions in reviews of the issues of The Democratic Review in which his fiction was first published. In an assessment of The Democratic Review for March 1842, which included Whitman's "The Last of the Sacred Army," a writer for the New Bedford Register (New Bedford, MA) praised the story and its writer: "Walter Whitman [has in this issue], another of those admirable tales which for graphic description and pathetic eloquence are not surpassed by any productions in the magazines of the day."See New Bedford Register, "[Review of The Democratic Review]." "The Last of the Sacred Army," a tale that includes a community's patriotic tribute to a surviving Revolutionary War soldier, also won the favor of the New York Evening Post (New York, NY), where the tale was deemed "a very neat and fanciful performance."See New York Evening Post, "Democratic Review." Two months later, the Register again offered enthusiastic approval of Whitman's fiction, this time for "A Child-Ghost; A Story of the Last Loyalist," which was first published in the May 1842 issue of The Democratic Review: "[In this issue] we have 'The Last Loyalist,' by Walter Whitman, a writer whose graphic sketches will always be read with pleasure."See New Bedford Register, "[The Democratic Review and United States Magazine]." "The Child-Ghost," the story of Vanhome—the last loyalist to the English, who is haunted by the ghost of a young boy he has beaten to death—also captured the attention of the Boston Morning Post (Boston, MA), whose writers compared Whitman's story to those authored by Nathaniel Hawthorne: "'The Child-Ghost, a story of the last Loyalist,' by W. Whitman, is a spirited and pleasing sketch, somewhat after the manner of Hawthorne's thrilling tales of the olden time."See Boston Morning Post, "[The Democratic Review]." In a similar review of the May issue of The Democratic Review in The Daily Troy Budget (Troy, NY), a writer remarked, "Walter Whitman, a favorite with us, has a fine story entitled the 'Child-Ghost.'"The reviewer is referring to Whitman's "The Child-Ghost: a Story of the Last Loyalist." See Daily Troy Budget, "Democratic Review." Whitman and his stories certainly received considerable praise from the Budget, and the paper's appreciation of Whitman's fiction helps to explain why the newspaper's editor reprinted at least six of them in 1841 and 1842, including "Death in the School-Room," "Wild Frank's Return," "Bervance; or Father and Son," "The Child-Ghost: a Story of the Last Loyalist," and "A Legend of Life and Love"—all from The Democratic Review—and "The Reformed"—seemingly from the New York Sun.For further information about reprints of Whitman's fiction in the Daily Troy Budget, see Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography. See also Blalock, "Bibliography," 181–250.

Several other individual stories by Whitman were praised and/or discussed in newspapers. The tales that earned such mention were not always those that Whitman later chose to reprint himself in the Eagle or in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days & Collect. Nor were the tales that garnered commentary always frequently reprinted in the period's newspapers. For example, Whitman did not include "Bervance; or, Father and Son," the story of a cruel father who drives his son Luke to violence and madness, in the Eagle or in Collect; yet, the New York Tribune hailed it as "a powerful and exciting story."See New York Tribune, "The Democratic Review for December, 1841." Likewise, when the Universalist Union reviewed the inaugural March 1845 issue of The Aristidean, the story was praised as "a sweet sketch...embodying the touching incident of the Widow of Nain," and the reviewer promised to "take occasion to look into the work further."For the full version of the review, see "The Aristidean." Whitman's "The Angel of Tears," another rarely reprinted religious sketch in which God sends the angel Alza to comfort a man sentenced to death, received mixed reviews in the periodical press. The Boston Morning Post, a newspaper that commented on several of Whitman's tales in its reviews of The Democratic Review, claimed "The 'Angel of Tears' by Walter Whitman, is a gem" and stated regretfully that the editors would "gladly extract it, did our space permit."The Boston Post, "Literary, The Democratic Review for September." The New York Daily Tribune praised Whitman's writing style, but found the tale lacking when compared to his earlier short fiction: "'The Angel of Tears,' betrays a good, healthy tone of thought and feeling, but it is decidedly inferior in point of grace and taste to previous papers by the same author."New-York Daily Tribune, "The Democratic Review for September, Vol. XI, No. 51." The paper's staff, it seems, preferred Whitman's reform tales and his violent schoolmasters and cruel fathers to his "sweet sketch."

The story that received the most attention in papers at the time of and in the years following its publication was Whitman's first and seemingly most popular piece of short fiction: "Death in the School-Room." The Perry Democrat called the story "a thrilling tale."Perry Democrat, "[A thrilling tale entitled 'Death in the School Room']." In 1843, when the Brooklyn Daily Eagle printed the announcement that Whitman had just assumed the editorship of a daily paper titled The Statesman, the writer introduced him as "Walter Whitman—well known to the reading public as the author of that thrilling sketch entitled 'Death in the School Room,' published some time since in The Democratic Review, and more recently of an excellent temperance story called 'Franklin Evans.'"The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "[The Statesman]." Such a mention suggests that the paper's editors believed Whitman was likely to be recognized on the basis of "Death in the School-Room" or his temperance novel; in other words, given the wide circulation of these works in and beyond New York, readers would know one or both of these titles from Whitman. In fact, one reader of "Death in the School-Room" in The Democratic Review wrote to the editor of the Boston Morning Post to praise the story. Just a few days after the publication of "Death in the School-Room. A Fact," a reader denoted solely as "R" explained in the letter: "My feelings were very much excited on reading in that able magazine for August, The Democratic Review, an article headed "'Death in the School-Room—a fact'." The reader went on to state, "I hope you will find room in your paper to copy the above interesting article referred too [sic]." Although the editor replied "We'll try," no copy of the story has been located in the Post.R. "To the Editor of The Boston Morning Post."

Changing Perceptions of Whitman's Fiction

In his later years, Whitman's own feelings about his short fiction and the quality of the writing were ambivalent at best. In fact, Whitman's view of the fiction and its place in his literary career seemed to shift over his lifetime, much like his opinion of Franklin Evans. For example, when Whitman published his novel in November 1842, he wrote in the "Introductory" section that he hoped the text would be "wafted by every mail to all parts of this vast republic."See Whitman's Franklin Evans. But, in 1888, Whitman told his friend and biographer Horace Traubel that he had written Franklin Evans "with the help of a bottle of port" and that he didn't believe there was "a copy in existence."See Traubel's entry dated Wednesday, May 2, 1888. Whitman also claimed to have written the novel primarily for financial reasons; he recalled receiving $75 in cash as a down payment and an additional $50 because of its high sales figures.See Traubel's entry dated Saturday, September 15, 1888.

When it came to the short fiction, Whitman did not identify any alcoholic beverages as the source of inspiration for his writings, but when he was twenty-two, he boasted in a letter to Nathan Hale, Jr., editor of the Boston Miscellany, "My stories, I believe, have been pretty popular, and extracted liberally" (1:26).See the letter from Walt Whitman to Nathan Hale, Jr., June 14, 1842, in Miller, The Correspondence, 1:26. But at least by 1882 Whitman had mixed feelings about his fiction, and he admitted as much when he composed "a special word" about the short fiction he reprinted in the "PIECES IN EARLY YOUTH" section of Specimen Days & Collect—stories that he had written approximately fifty years earlier, when, according to the poet, "I tried my 'prentice hand at recording—(I was then quite an 'abolitionist' and advocate of the 'temperance' and 'anti-capital-punishment' causes)."Kaplan, Complete Poetry and Prose, 927. Whitman went on to sum up his feelings about those early short stories, writing: "My serious wish were to have all those crude and boyish pieces quietly dropp'd in oblivion—but to avoid the annoyance of their surreptitious issue...I have with some qualms, tack'd them on here."Ibid. Whitman suggests that he is reluctant about including tales in the volume, in part, because they reflected his youthful political beliefs and his involvement in popular reform movements of the 1840s. At the same time, despite Whitman's hesitation, he simultaneously and purposefully put a selection of his stories back into print circulation so that these early ideas were presented to 1880s readers of his prose.

Eight years later, in 1890, when Whitman recalled his fiction career in conversation with Horace Traubel, the poet had an even stronger reaction to the stories he composed when he was in his twenties. When Traubel asked the poet if the short stories published in The Democratic Review and signed "Walter Whitman" were indeed his, Whitman admitted at last: "Yes—I guess there's no doubt of that—they're mine, if I want to claim them—as I do not! I don't think much of 'em—they're better forgotten."See Traubel's entry dated Friday, April 25, 1890. Later, he explained to Traubel that, like Franklin Evans, the short stories served a practical and primarily financial function, declaring, "they supplied me with necessaries—grub, a living." He even went so far as to state that the stories were "of no importance to anybody but me" and, really of "no importance to me."See Traubel's entry dated Friday, August 14, 1891. Whitman's dismissal of his early writings and his explicit and repeated wishes that the short fiction be dropped into oblivion partly came true at least in the twentieth century.

A number of early biographers, bibliographers, and editors alike seem to have taken seriously Whitman's wish to distance himself from his short fiction. Whereas Whitman's stories were often praised as "thrilling tales" and "sweet sketches" in the nineteenth-century periodical press at the time they were published, and one newspaper even designated him a "favorite" fiction author, these favorable opinions later gave way to more critical assessments. Whitman's biographer Henry Seidel Canby responded to Whitman's 1842 insistence that his stories were "pretty popular" by writing, "'pretty terrible' would have been a more accurate term" and declaring that he considered Whitman "a bad hack writer even according to the low standards of really popular writing at the time" (39; 41). Emory Holloway, who reprinted several of Whitman's short stories in the first of his two volumes in 1921 dedicated to the poet's uncollected poetry and prose, found that the early fiction pieces were melodramatic and "reflect the wave of sentimentality which was, in the forties, sweeping over the country." He goes on to suggest that such titles as "The Angel of Tears" and "Eris; A Spirit Record" "deserved to die in the age of sighs that gave them birth" (73). Thomas Brasher echoed some of these sentiments in his introduction to his 1963 edition of Whitman's fiction when he called the tales "unoriginal, conventional, and poorly written" and attributed these faults to "Whitman's efforts to please the reading public's taste for the sentimental, the didactic, and the gothic" (17). Brasher even went so far as to state, "the plain fact is that Whitman had no talent for fiction" (18).

Despite their criticisms of Whitman's writing style and ability, what becomes clear here is the changing tastes in popular fiction from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, which certainly accounts for some of the shift in opinions about the stories and even the ways they are evaluated. Fiction that was circulated and praised within 1840s periodicals was received differently among twentieth-century readers who generally encountered it outside of the original periodical contexts. What is also missing from these accounts is a sense of how Whitman's fiction was published and circulated in the periodical press in his own time, an understanding that his "Death in the School-Room," for example, was, as the New York Sun put it in 1907, "a literary success" that "caught the public fancy and was widely copied in the provincial press" in spite of what the author called Whitman's "verbose and clumsy" fiction writing style.M. W. H. "Some New Books: Walt Whitman." The literary merits or lack thereof of Whitman's fiction are, of course, debatable. But what is certain is that both Whitman and the Sun were absolutely right to point to his stories as having garnered public favor and having been widely circulated in periodicals. In fact, not only were several of Whitman's short stories republished by nineteenth-century newspapers following their first printing in New York periodicals, but some of them also reached an international audience in the early 1840s.

The Circulation and Readership of Whitman's Short Fiction

Any conclusions about the reprinting of Whitman's fiction in nineteenth-century periodicals are necessarily limited by several factors that merit acknowledgement here. Nearly 400 reprints of the twenty-six known pieces of fiction by Whitman have been published in periodicals since August 1841, the publication date of his first short story "Death in the School-Room." There are almost certainly more reprints of these stories in newspapers and magazines in the nineteenth century. Bibliographers documented Whitman's extensive body of writings, collecting the fiction currently attributed to him and noting approximately twenty-five reprints of his stories through archival research in the early to mid-twentieth century.For earlier publication histories, including previously discovered reprints of Whitman's stories, see Brasher, EPF, Appendix A, 335–339; Tanselle, "Whitman's Short Stories: Another Reprint," 115; White, "Addenda to Whitman's Short Stories," 221–222; White, "Two Citations" 36–37; White, "Whitman as Short Story Writer," 87–89. However, over the last five years, as the number of digitized newspapers and magazines has increased, more than 350 additional reprints of Whitman's fiction have been uncovered primarily through the use of searchable databases and online archives of periodicals.For an updated bibliography of all known first printings and reprints of Whitman's fiction, see "Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography." But any bibliography of Whitman's fiction is necessarily incomplete since some periodicals from the nineteenth-century are no longer extant and many of those that still survive remain undigitized or prove difficult to search, even online. Despite these limitations, it is possible to make some observations about the publication history and circulation of Whitman's fiction based on the reprints that have been documented thus far.

All of the known works of short fiction by Whitman were first published in New York in the 1840s, a decade when the literary marketplace was characterized by what Meredith McGill has called "a culture of reprinting" in which newspapers and magazines regularly borrowed and republished poems, articles, and stories that first appeared in print elsewhere. As a result, some of Whitman's stories were still being reprinted as many as fifty years later, at the time of his death. Others, it seems, were rarely reprinted at all. Stories like "Lingave's Temptation," which focused on the plight of a poor poet attempting to make ends meet in New York, and "Reuben's Last Wish," which detailed young Reuben's dying plea for his father to sign the temperance pledge, were originally published in New York newspapers. They do not, however, seem to have been chosen for republication by the editors of local or regional newspapers of the period. In contrast, the most often reprinted short stories were first published in magazines and then reprinted in a significant number of newspapers: the macabre tale of "Death in the School-Room. A Fact" was reprinted more than 120 times, while the moral and didactic "A Legend of Life and Love" was copied on more than ninety occasions in nearly as many newspapers.Placing these reprint numbers in the context of those of other nineteenth-century fiction writers—even when such figures exist—presents numerous challenges. Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Celestial Railroad" was first published in the May 1843 issue of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, and Ryan Cordell notes that the story is "a central text in the nineteenth-century evangelical canon." In 2013, Cordell had located more than 47 reprints of the story in 19th- and 20th- Century newspapers along with "nearly 100 direct references" to the characters or other aspects of Hawthorne's tale. See Cordell, "'Taken Possession of.'" Both "Death in the School-Room" and "A Legend of Life and Love" far exceed the number of known reprints of Hawthorne's story; however, reviews or any other direct references to either of those pieces in the periodical press are seemingly few and far between. Other often reprinted short stories include the gothic-influenced piece entitled "The Tomb-Blossoms," and "The Death of Wind-Foot" and "The Last of the Sacred Army," both of which appeared in Franklin Evans as well as being printed as stand-alone stories. Four of these five widely copied tales were originally published in The Democratic Review, a prestigious political journal with a reputation for literary excellence that may help explain why so many local newspaper editors were eager to reprint its content.

The significant extent of the circulation of Whitman's fiction suggests that these early works would have been accessible to the kind of extensive readership he imagined for his novel and, later, his poetry. In his introduction to Franklin Evans, which was published as an extra edition of The New World newspaper in November 1842, he claimed the narrative was written for "the Masses," and, later, the poet similarly envisioned a readership that would readily absorb the poems in Leaves of Grass and celebrate him as America's poet. Yet, as Ed Folsom and Ken Price point out, Franklin Evans; or, the Inebriate. A Tale of the Times sold 20,000 copies, more than any edition of Leaves of Grass during Whitman's lifetime. The Democratic Review, where nine of Whitman's short stories were printed for the first time, had approximately 3,500 subscribers in 1842, and when Whitman's fiction was reprinted it reached an even larger audience of periodical readers (Chielens, ed., 427). "A Legend of Life and Love," first published in The Democratic Review in July 1842, was reprinted in both the New-York Daily Tribune and the New York Sun (daily) later that same month. By the winter of 1842, the Tribune had a circulation of approximately 10,000 daily (Mitchell 9), while the July 8, 1842, issue of the Sun—the issue that included Whitman's story—boasted the likely exaggerated circulation figure of 36,000 on its front page.

Although it would be difficult to determine the circulation figures of all periodicals that published Whitman's fiction, what is certain is that the short stories were reprinted in more than 300 newspapers and magazines in the nineteenth century alone. Much like The Troy Budget, additional periodicals in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania also published two or more different titles by Whitman. In total more than thirty-one U.S. newspapers and/or journals reprinted at least two of Whitman's tales or reprinted the same tale twice, at least seven periodicals reprinted three different tales, and at least four periodicals reprinted four different stories by Whitman. These figures suggest that a staggering number of local, regional, and national periodical readers had access to Whitman's short stories, a much larger readership than has been previously imagined for the fiction. Whitman's early poetry, in contrast, including such titles as "Fame's Vanity" and "The Punishment of Pride," which adhere to conventions of rhyme, meter, and subject matter, do not seem to have been reprinted on the scale of the short fiction.A poetry reprints project is currently underway to investigate the circulation and reprinting of Whitman's poetry during his lifetime. Matt Cohen and Alejandro Omidsalar of the University of Texas at Austin, Ashley Palmer of Indiana University Bloomington, and Stephanie Blalock of the University of Iowa aim to create a bibliographic handlist of all the reprints of Whitman's poems published before his death on March 26, 1892. For a full description of the project and some early findings, see "Whitman's Poetry Reprints," Cohen Lab, 2016.

The largest concentration of reprints of Whitman's fiction are printed in newspapers published in and around his native New York. But frequent sharing of literary works among periodicals not only increased the number of readers of Whitman's fiction but also expanded the geographic range of these texts far beyond New York and even the Northeast region of the U.S.For more information about where Whitman's fiction circulated in the United States and internationally, 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. In fact, the fiction, primarily "Death in the School-Room," was already circulating throughout the United States in the final months of 1841 and other titles were published internationally as early as 1842. Whitman's "The Tomb-Blossoms" was reprinted in London in the July 1842 issue of The Great Western Magazine and Anglo-American Journal. Later that same year, on July 20, 1842, the Chronicle & Gazette and Kingston Commercial Advertiser in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, copied Whitman's "A Legend of Life and Love." In 1846, the year that Whitman began his editorship with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "A Legend of Life and Love" was reprinted in the Stanstead Journal (Rock Island, Stanstead, Canada), and "The Death of Wind-Foot" was printed in the Colonial Times and Tasmanian in Van Diemen's Land—now known as Tasmania. An advertisement published on the second page of the Colonial Times claimed that it circulated "extensively throughout the Australian Colonies, India, China, Europe, and America" ("[Col. Times and Tasmanian]," notice, [2], April 7, 1846), which suggests the potential for an international audience for Whitman's fiction at least nine years before the publication of the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855. What is certain, however, is that in the nineteenth century alone, Whitman's fiction was reprinted in at least thirty-three states and/or territories, Washington, D.C., and, as previously mentioned, in three countries: Canada, England, and Tasmania.

The Many Forms and Contexts of Whitman's Reprinted Fiction

Most reprints of Whitman's fiction were published in the early 1840s within a few months of the original publication of his tales. However, several stories endured and/or resurfaced in various newspapers and geographical regions decades after they were written. In the mid-1850s and early 1860s, "Death in the School-Room" was published in several newspapers in Wisconsin and in 1863, while Whitman volunteered in the Civil War Hospitals of Washington, D.C., both "Death in the School-Room" and "Wild Frank's Return" were copied by Pennsylvania newspapers. "The Tomb-Blossoms" and "The Last of the Sacred Army" were reprinted more than forty times in the months following Whitman's death at his home in Camden, New Jersey, on March 26, 1892. This means that more than fifty years after Whitman wrote and submitted the stories to The Democratic Review, they were still seen by newspaper editors as both relevant to reading audiences and a fitting memorial to the writer who was, by then, being celebrated as America's poet.

Some of Whitman's early works of fiction no doubt endured in the periodical press because Whitman himself revised and revived the tales at least twice in his life, by reprinting selected stories in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle during his editorship at that paper from 1846 to 1848 and in his prose volume Specimen Days & Collect (1882–83).Whitman also reprinted the work of other authors when he was editing newspapers, and even later into his life. Several of his reprints of his own stories in the Eagle were accompanied by reprints of poems by authors like Alfred Lord Tennyson and Felicia Hemans. An entire saga of reprinting and mistaken (or partial) attribution also unfolded around "The Midnight Visitor," a title Whitman gave to a segment of Henri Murger's "Balade du désespéré" when he revised the translation. The segment, under that title, was later attributed to Whitman and reprinted over his name in a number of periodicals. For more, see Omidsalar, "Walt Whitman's Midnight Visitors." Their longevity may be attributed to the variety of forms and contexts in which they were printed, as well as the disparate reading audiences periodical editors aimed to reach by reprinting the fiction. For example, in the months following Whitman's death in March 1892, at least two artists created illustrated versions of "The Tomb-Blossoms," and there is at least one illustrated version of "The Last of the Sacred Army." The stories were soon circulated widely again since they were then reprinted, with the accompanying illustrations, in newspapers across the United States, from Montana to Arkansas and from Colorado to Pennsylvania.

Although Whitman is not typically considered a writer of children's literature, this is one of the most interesting contexts in which the short fiction was published in the poet's lifetime. In fact, at least two periodical editors saw Whitman's short stories as appropriate for the youngest of periodical readers and their parents because of the moral instruction the tales offered. One magazine editor seems to have condensed the story of "The Tomb-Blossoms," removing much of Whitman's descriptive language and shortening the tale to only the main plot events.There is no evidence that Whitman made these changes, but the possibility cannot be ruled out given Whitman's history of editing and reprinting various versions of his short fiction. The editor then reprinted this shorter version of the story in Our Boys and Girls, a children's magazine published in the 1880s in London. The Universalist Union (New York, NY) reprinted Whitman's temperance tale "Little Jane" on December 19, 1846. In The Universalist Union, the story was printed in the "Youth's Department" section of the journal with the following note for a preface: "[S]uch articles never grow old. They speak to the heart at all times and seasons. And we never suffer injury by familiarity with them. Let our little folks read it attentively and draw a lesson of kindness therefrom." Young readers, these periodical editors suggested, could learn the values of temperance and "kindness" from Whitman's fiction.

It was not uncommon to find fiction and poems on the front page of nineteenth-century newspapers. Most editors, therefore, published reprints of Whitman's fiction on the first or second pages of their papers. Some periodical editors further shaped readers' experiences of the fiction and its reprints by publishing his tales in two or more parts or serial installments. The Daily Troy Budget (Troy, NY), the newspaper that claimed to favor Whitman's fiction, reprinted both "Bervance; or, Father and Son" and "The Child-Ghost; A Story of the Last Loyalist" in 1841 and 1842, respectively, as works of serial fiction.For full citation information for these reprints, see "Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography." Even though these stories were originally printed in their entirety in a single issue of The Democratic Review, presumably as Whitman had submitted them, the Budget divided the tales into two installments, each published in separate issues of the newspaper. This meant that readers had to wait until the publication of the second issue to find out how the stories ended, a move that likely prolonged their suspense, leaving them waiting to find out what happened to Luke Bervance as a result of his father's cruelty and what happened to Vanhome after he was visited by the "Child-Ghost." From 1846 to 1848, during his editorship of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Whitman reprinted several of his short stories as well as the revised version of Franklin Evans (now titled Fortunes of a Country Boy) in multiple serial installments. Perhaps following Whitman's lead in choosing to republish his fiction in serial form, newspaper editors in Wisconsin reprinted "Death in the School-Room" in two installments in the early 1860s. Likewise, the Cincinnati Enquirer published "Revenge and Requital" in five parts, even though Whitman himself had never divided the story into serial installments.

Some periodical editors placed Whitman's short fiction under columns with specific headings designated to divide the publication into sections or to help the audience to navigate the various types of reading material to be found in each issue. Such column headings also described the tales' contents or attracted the attention of a specific demographic of readers. The Portage Sentinel (Ravenna, OH), for example, places "The Death of Wind-Foot" in a column with the heading "Select Tale," the Dollar Newspaper (Philadelphia, PA) prints it in the "Popular Stories" column, while the Massachusetts Ploughman (Boston, MA) designates the same tale as part of the "Ladies Department."For full citation information for these reprints, see "Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography." Each of these headings functions to draw the attention of readers to the popularity of Whitman's tales and/or to encourage perusal by a particular audience, in the case of the choice to add the story to the "Ladies Department." Other stories by Whitman were printed under such headings as "A Thrilling Story," "A Moral Tale," and "Tales of Real Life," which highlight various elements of the texts, including the suspenseful plots, the didactic lessons, and the autobiographical elements of some stories. Given how many of Whitman's stories received prominent placement on the first pages of newspapers, those tales—whether with or without column headings—may have been among the first items that readers encountered. At the same time, Whitman's fiction was printed alongside other works of literature, articles, and/or notices that also appeared on preceding and subsequent pages, if not the very same page. Whitman's "The Last of the Sacred Army," a story about the last living soldier who served under General George Washington in the American war for independence, was published alongside a notice regarding a runaway slave in the Wilmington Journal (Wilmington, NC) in November 1851, and in the Milwaukee Sentinel (Milwaukee, WI), the same story was published on May 29, 1892, just two columns away from "Widows Many Years," an article about the nineteen surviving women who had once been married to Revolutionary War soldiers and who were still receiving pensions at that time.

Despite the frequency and the many contexts within which Whitman's stories were published and reprinted, it remains difficult to assess how many readers recognized Whitman's name as a popular fiction writer and/or if a majority of them could associate a group of fiction writings with him. After all, in periodicals, Whitman's stories were published under revised or variant titles. "Death in the School-Room" was reprinted under at least eight titles ranging from "Death in a School-Room" to "The Widow's Son." Furthermore, each time that Whitman himself revised and reprinted the fiction, the newspapers and periodicals also reprinted the revised versions with or without attribution, thus putting even more copies and variants into circulation, some of which were not signed or attributed in any way. While most of the first printings of Whitman's fiction were signed "Walter Whitman," most of the reprints were designated as having been authored by "W. W.," but more than a third—a significant number of reprints—remained unsigned, giving readers no clue about who had authored the tales. Likewise, when there was no mention of a prior printed source, readers who likely have been unaware that the stories had been published first in The Democratic Review, for instance.

Nevertheless, Whitman was keenly aware about the reprinting and the extent of the circulation of his fiction. He was also very proud of its reach and its readership, as evidenced by his letter to Hale.See the letter from Walt Whitman to Nathan Hale, Jr., June 14, 1842, in Miller, The Correspondence, 1:26. Much remains to be explored about the publication history of the individual stories and about Whitman's fiction in the periodical press. Whitman's revisions, the patterns of circulation of the reprints, and the periodical items published alongside the fiction merit further exploration. Nevertheless, at least some periodical readers would likely have recognized Whitman as a writer of popular fiction—if they knew him at all—long before he was known as America's poet or even the author of Leaves of Grass.

Fiction and Finances

Despite the widespread circulation of Whitman's fiction and the praise that he and his stories received, short fiction writing may not have been a significantly profitable venture for him. In an article entitled "Pay of American Writers," a writer for the Dollar Newspaper (Philadelphia, PA) lamented that some magazine contributors were being "wretchedly paid" for their literature.The Dollar Newspaper, "Pay of American Writers." The writer noted that there was a great deal of "wretched" material printed in magazines, but he gave two examples of recently published "good" magazine literature, "Death in the School Room" and "Legend of Life and Love" [sic], both authored by Walt Whitman. Although the purpose of this piece is to highlight the Dollar Newspaper's "liberal reward" of "$300 for five stories," the use of Whitman's pieces as a case study sheds new light on the poet's wide readership but clearly less-than-lucrative fiction career. These two stories, the writer proclaims, "were copied by three fourths of the newspapers in America" and "universally admired," following their original publication in a "first class monthly," The Democratic Review. While exaggerated, the claim nonetheless makes a valid point: these are the two most often reprinted stories that Whitman wrote. In total, "Death in the School-Room" and "A Legend of Life and Love" were reprinted more than 200 times. Whitman received the sum of five dollars for them, primarily because, as a journalist in his early twenties, he had not yet established his name as a fiction writer.Ibid. The publishers were likely more generous with well-known writers than they were with Whitman, but The Democratic Review was unable to pay even frequent and important contributors like Nathaniel Hawthorne sufficiently or promptly.Sophia Hawthorne, wife of the 19th-century novelist and frequent Democratic Review contributor Nathaniel Hawthorne, wrote to her mother: "[T]he Democratic Review is so poor now that it can only offer $20 for an article of what length soever, so that Mr. Hawthorne cannot well afford to give any but short stories to it; and besides it is sadly dilatory about payment" (Letter from Sophia Hawthorne to her Mother, January 9, 1844, printed in Lathrop, Memories of Hawthorne, 70.

If Whitman only received this small sum for his contributions to The Democratic Review, this may help explain why Whitman wrote to Nathan Hale, Jr., the editor of the Boston Miscellany, in June 1842, in an attempt to sell his story "The Angel of Tears" to the journal for $8.See the letter from Walt Whitman to Nathan Hale, Jr., in Miller, The Correspondence, 1:26. Establishing a publishing relationship with the Miscellany had the potential to increase his income from the stories, and it seems that Whitman was willing to forego publication in The Democratic Review—one of the most significant literary journals of the time—and the "public favor" that it promised for the additional income. However, Hale rejected the manuscript, and Whitman submitted it to The Democratic Review, where it was published in September 1842, presumably for less profit than if Hale had accepted the piece.

Considering the income Whitman made for these short stories, writing the temperance novel Franklin Evans for The New World seems more profitable, comparatively speaking. In 1888, looking back on his temperance novel, Whitman told Horace Traubel that he had written the novel exclusively for financial reasons and it had netted him $75 as a down payment and an additional 50 for selling 20,000 copies (2:323).See Traubel's entry dated Saturday, September 15, 1888. But regardless of the amount Whitman earned for his popular novel and even though he was resigned to The Democratic Review's lower rate for "The Angel of Tears" and the other stories he published there, his fiction, as Vivian Pollak has pointed out, was a more profitable venture than publishing volumes of nontraditional verse, the form of writing to which he would turn with the publication of the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855.Pollak, The Erotic Whitman, 38. "More profitable" is really an understatement. Whitman footed the bill for the production of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, and he paid for the printing and binding of several of the later editions of Leaves and his other books as well. See Folsom, "Whitman Making Books." Whitman continued to make money by publishing poetry and prose pieces in newspapers and journals throughout his life (and holding a number of other jobs), but the early editions of Leaves were poor sellers with negative margins, and no edition sold so well as Franklin Evans was reported to have done.

Whitman's Revisions to his Short Fiction

It is a little surprising, in light of his repeated statements that he wanted his fiction to disappear into oblivion, that Whitman himself revised and republished his stories on multiple occasions. In a world of rampant reprinting, perhaps he wanted to issue "authorized" versions of the tales over which he knew he could have some control.The concerns he expressed in the introductory note to the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days & Collect, concerning the "surreptitious issue" of the stories, suggest this was the motivation for at least the later republications in that volume. Whatever the reason, substantively revised versions of "The Love of the Four Students" and "The Child's Champion" appeared in different periodicals as "The Boy-Lover" and "The Child and the Profligate," respectively. After the publication of "Some Fact-Romances" in December 1845, Whitman took up the reins of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which he would edit from 1846 to 1848. At this point his attention seems to have turned from writing fiction to editing and republishing it. Allen speculates that Whitman, in his new role as editor, may have become too busy to write fiction, which is consistent with the fact that the next new story he is known to have published was "The Shadow and the Light of a Young Man's Soul," in June 1848, shortly after his editorship was terminated.Whitman was dismissed as editor of the Eagle in January 1848. Allen claims that Whitman, when he was editing the Eagle, "had neither time nor inclination to write more immature stories and poems for the magazines" (76). And indeed, Jerome Loving points out that "The Shadow and the Light of a Young Man's Soul," a loosely autobiographical story about a dissatisfied country teacher, "was probably written much earlier—closer to the time when [Whitman] felt like Archie Dean," the main character in the story.A number of biographers discuss the letters Whitman wrote to Abraham Paul Leech during a teaching stint in Woodbury in 1840, in which he expressed feelings of discontent similar to those experienced by Dean in this story. See Loving, 40–41. Loving argues that several of Whitman's stories were written while he was teaching, prior to returning to Manhattan in 1841 (54). In any case, it is clear that a shortage of time to create new compositions did not daunt the young Whitman, whose penchants to revise and recycle were already at work.Whitman began revising and republishing his writing as early as 1841–2. Three early examples are the poems "Each Has His Grief," "Time to Come," and "Ambition," which he revised for publication in The New World (in 1841), the Aurora (in 1842), and Brother Jonathan (in 1842), respectively. "Each Has His Grief" had previously appeared as "We All Shall Rest at Last" in the Long Island Democrat on July 14, 1840. "Time to Come" had first appeared as "Our Future Lot" in the Long-Islander sometime before October 31, 1838. "Ambition" had previously appeared in the Long Island Democrat as "Fame's Vanity" in 1839. For a discussion of "Ambition" and other early revisions, see Loving, 44–45. Soon after taking over the Eagle, he began republishing many of his older stories.

The first story to be revised and republished in the Eagle was "The Death of Wind-Foot," which was serialized in two parts on August 29 and 30, 1845, about six months before Whitman took over editorship of the paper. He revised and republished another thirteen of his stories (nearly half the total number of stories he had written) while he was editing the Eagle. In fact, he instigated a new section on the front page of the paper devoted to literary items with his publication of the first installment of "The Half-Breed," a revised version of his lengthy story "Arrow-Tip."Rodgers notes that "[d]uring the two years of his editorship he published, or republished, poems, short stories and serials by Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, Poe, and Hawthorne, and numerous other contemporary American authors; also translations from Goethe and many other foreign writers" (xxxvii). For further discussion of Whitman's role as editor of the Eagle, see Stacy and Bergman. The last of his short fiction to appear in the Eagle during Whitman's lifetime was "The Boy-Lover," which was published as a two-part serial on January 4 and 5, 1848."The Boy-Lover" was serialized in the Eagle in the midst of the controversy between Whitman and Van Anden. For further discussion of that controversy, see Rodgers, xxviii-xxxv, and Loving, 111. For a complete list of stories that were republished in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, as well as all of the other reprints of Whitman's fiction, see "Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography." The second stage of Whitman's republication of his fiction did not occur until nearly thirty-five years later, when he was putting together materials for Specimen Days & Collect (1882). He would eventually publish eight of his stories (about a third of the total number) as part of that volume in a section titled "Pieces in Early Youth." Six of those ("Death in the School-Room," "Wild Frank's Return," "The Child and the Profligate," "The Boy-Lover," "Dumb Kate," and "One Wicked Impulse") had been among the stories he had republished in the Eagle in 1846–48. "The Child-Ghost" and "Lingave's Temptation," the other two stories that formed part of "Pieces in Early Youth," Whitman apparently decided to resurrect only for Collect.

Whitman revised each of the stories prior to republication, and his changes ranged from minor alterations in wording and punctuation to major cuts and complete overhauls. Perhaps the most striking revisions, and certainly the ones that have received the most critical attention, were the changes Whitman made to the story "The Child's Champion." First published in The New World—the same paper that later published Franklin Evans—in 1841, this story was revised and republished as "The Child and the Profligate" in The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine in October 1844, revised and republished again as a three-part serial in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in January 1847, and then revised and republished again as part of the "Pieces in Early Youth" section in 1882. Michael Moon has noted that several potentially homoerotic references in the original story, involving interactions between the main character Charley, the sailor who attacks him in a tavern, and his defender Lankton, were cut from the 1844 version, which put much more emphasis on temperance than had the original.See Michael Moon, "Rendering the Text and the Body Fluid: The Cases of 'The Child's Champion' and the 1855 Leaves of Grass," in Disseminating Whitman, 26–36. If, as Moon argues, Whitman purposely engaged in "self-censorship" by toning down the homoeroticism of these scenes with his revisions, it is interesting to note that Whitman's two fragmentary stories, "The Madman" and "The Fireman's Dream," both leave off at the point where two male characters begin to develop or describe a close relationship.Loving has made a similar observation (77–80). There are, of course, many other possible explanations for the fact that no final installments of either of these two stories are known to have been published—nineteenth-century periodical publications were notoriously unstable, and they may simply have been casualties of financial or other difficulties on the part of either the newspaper or Whitman. Both fragments consist of chapters and feature epigraphs, like Whitman's novel Franklin Evans, so they may have been intended as longer pieces that Whitman wound up not having the time to complete.

Though other revisions differ across the various stories that Whitman elected to republish, a few preliminary patterns can be noted. For publication in the Eagle, Whitman often included poems before or after the stories. These poems occasionally resonate with the subjects of the stories. Before the last installment of "The Half-Breed," for instance, Whitman placed a poem by Felicia Hemans titled "Nameless Martyrs," part of a longer poem originally titled "The Graves of Martyrs." The subject of this poem, the unmarked graves of martyrs who died "For Truth, for Heaven, for Freedom's sake," seems to speak to Arrow-Tip's hanging in this chapter for a crime he did not commit. Six of the longer stories (including "The Half-Breed," a revision of "Arrow-Tip," and "Fortunes of a Country Boy," a revision of Franklin Evans) were serialized in the Eagle, published in multiple installments rather than as single texts. The stories in Collect, published much later, show the signs of a more seasoned, confident writer. Across the board, Whitman introduced apostrophes for words ending in "-ed," a move consistent with his developed style and a change he made throughout the texts that appeared in Specimen Days & Collect.Whitman seems to have started using this practice in earnest in his published poetry sometime during the Civil War period; the number of times "'d" appears jumps from 23 in the 1860–1 edition of Leaves of Grass to 1141 in the 1867 edition. This is close to the same time he began to use more parentheses in "Song of Myself," a move that scholars have associated with a Civil War-era turn to "pensiveness" or self-conscious reflexivity—see Price, "Love, War, and Revision," 679–692.

Over the course of their republication, Whitman seems to have removed some of the more didactic language from several of the stories. When he republished "Revenge and Requital" as "One Wicked Impulse" in three installments in the Eagle, for instance, he cut the final line, which expressed the anti-capital punishment bent of the story. When he republished the story again in Collect, he cut the entire fourth section, which recounts the redemptive involvement of the main character Philip, who has murdered the lawyer Covert, with cholera victims, including Covert's sons. In place of that section, Whitman inserted the following paragraph: "Though against all the rules of story-writing, we continue our narrative of these mainly true incidents (for such they are,) no further. Only to say that the murderer soon departed for a new field of action—that he is still living—and that this is but one of the thousands of cases of unravel'd, unpunish'd crime—left, not to the tribunals of man, but to a wider power and judgment." Perhaps Whitman had cooled on his early commitment to such causes; perhaps he just wanted to cut the story down, but in either case this new conclusion, with a new claim for the veracity of the story, fails to redeem Philip—now described in italics as the murderer—in the way that previous versions had.

In later years, Whitman also seems to have moved away from his temperance focus. Even as early as the appearance of the stories in the Eagle, he revised temperance out of his fiction, as he did in the case of Franklin Evans.See Blalock and Gray, Introduction to Franklin Evans and "Fortunes of a Country Boy." These revisions involved both sizable cuts and word and line-level alterations, as in the case of "Wild Frank's Return," where the subtle association between Wild Frank's drink at the tavern and his subsequent death is mitigated through the removal of lines like "it seemed to shiver the very central foundations, and every object appeared reeling like a drunken man." Later in his life, as he suggested in his comments to Traubel, Whitman's enthusiasm for the reform causes of the antebellum period clearly had waned, and he did not choose to reprint any of his explicitly temperance-themed fiction as part of the "Pieces in Early Youth" section in Collect.

Whitman's first published story, "Death in the School-Room," originally appeared in August 1841; it was republished in the Eagle in 1847; and it finally appeared again, slightly revised, in Specimen Days & Collect in 1882. It is striking to think that Whitman revised his fiction over the course of more than forty years, a longer if less intensive period than he spent revising Leaves of Grass (editions of which appeared from 1855 to 1891). Several Whitman manuscripts survive that appear to be drafts or fragments of fictional compositions that were never published (or that have not yet been found): these would be an interesting topic of discussion in and of themselves. Whitman's handwritten revisions to printed versions of some of his stories also survive, and several are represented in facsimile in Thomas Brasher's The Early Poems and the Fiction. Additional work to uncover more about the revisions among original, Eagle, Collect, and other versions of the stories will likely yield provocative insights about how changes to these stories reflect the development of Whitman's life and career over the course of the nineteenth century.


In a manuscript at Duke University, written across five leaves of brown paper, Whitman unfolds the story of a boy in a dream: "Of a summer evening, a boy fell asleep with the tears of foolish passion yet undried upon his cheeks." The boy dreams of years passing, transgressions large and small, and finally of receiving a message about his mother's approaching death. In the dream he travels to see her, but does not make it before she dies. Consumed by guilt, "he bent down to the cold blue lips and listened—but the cold blue lips were hushed forever. Now for two little words, I pardon, that proud rich man would ^almost have been willing to live in poverty for ever: but the words came not." At last, the boy awakes, and "blessed God that the path of the future years yet lay before him." The remaining part of the manuscript is crossed out: "and that there was still time to avoid the fearful consummation which had come to him in fancy!"

No evidence has been found that this dream-story ever turned into a published piece of prose or fiction. Another manuscript at Duke, however, this one in verse, picks up fragments of the story: I am that half-grown ^angry boy, fallen asleep, The tears of foolish passion yet undried  
  upon my cheeks.
Years with all their events pass for me, Some are spent in travel—some in the hun 
  usual hunt for after fortune.
I pass through ^the travels and fortunes ? of fifty thirty 
  years, and become old,
Each in its due order comes and goes, And then a message for me comes.
Edward Grier dates the prose manuscript in the 1840s, based on the handwriting. The poetry manuscript he dates to the 1840s or 1850s. Neither manuscript has been linked to a work known to have been published in Whitman's lifetime.Whitman crossed out the poetry manuscript and wrote on the bottom of it the words: "enteredyes." For images of the poetry manuscript, see the entry for "[I am that halfgrown angry boy]" in the Integrated Catalog of Walt Whitman's Literary Manuscripts. The prose manuscript was printed in Bucke's Notes and Fragments, and the poetry manuscript appeared in an 1965 Norton edition of Leaves of Grass with manuscript fragments included.

We are told the content of the "message" that was sent to the boy of Whitman's story of a summer evening—a message of death, a warning from the future, and a second chance to write his own story. But the poetry manuscript leaves off abruptly after the message that comes. Had he proceeded, would Whitman have changed the message? Was the revision from story to verse too direct to be workable—or was the revision instead from verse to story, and did it spark a new idea, a different direction altogether? We can follow the traces of revision, composition, development, and influence only so far, and then the evidence is always, to some extent, incomplete. Similarly, it is tempting to speculate but difficult to tell for certain why Whitman stopped publishing fiction. He had already been publishing poetry periodically in newspapers and magazines; perhaps in the early 1850s he had begun thinking more seriously about oratory, or poetry, or something else entirely. The evidence from the years just before the publication of the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855 is comparatively scarce.

Although Whitman's last known piece of fiction appeared before the first edition of Leaves of Grass, these two manuscripts about a dreaming boy suggest that any apparent transition from fiction-writing and more traditional verse to the kind of experimental poetry-writing that makes up Leaves of Grass was not necessarily as clear-cut as the publication histories and trends towards aesthetic valuation (and devaluation) in literary criticism may have made it seem. Whitman pondered a range of generic possibilities in his notebooks from these early years.For one example, see med Cophósis, in which Whitman ponders "a spiritual novel?" See also Miller's discussion of this "notebook" in Collage of Myself, 11–24. He experimented with themes and structures of narration in his fiction that would surface again in the poems in Leaves of Grass and his later printed volumes. As recent critics have suggested, it seems likely that his imagination of himself as a writer never fell neatly into generic divisions that would allow us to track a simple progression over time. Certainly, fiction was one of the earlier genres he published. But he also published short, metered poems (a poem probably written by Whitman would accompany the publication of the incomplete story "The Fireman's Dream" in the New York Sunday Times and Noah's Weekly Messenger)See "Tale of a Shirt: A Very Pathetic Ballad," signed "W." and experimented with oratory, preparing political speeches in the 1840s and 1850s, writing what his family would refer to as "barrels of lectures," and imagining himself becoming a major figure on the nineteenth century lyceum circuit.Whitman delivered at least one political speech, to a gathering in New York City on July 29, 1841 (Loving 49). On April 6, 1847—during Whitman's editorship—the Eagle reprinted a report of that early speech that had appeared in the New Era on July 30, 1841. Loving writes that "Whitman's brother George testified that around the time of the early 1850s, Walt 'had an idea he could lecture. He wrote what Mother called "barrels" of lectures'" (160). Presumably the same interest in reform that is visible in his stories informed his early experience and interest in oratory.

The hazier world of manuscripts, outside of, informing (and sometimes, in proof sheets, overtaking) the clear black-and-white contrast of the printed page, similar to the dream-world of Whitman's stories and poetry, calls boundaries into question—generic, as much as any other. The shifting of Whitman's words into and out of verse, his incessant revising and reworking, speak to a form of composition that ultimately chafed against genre-based distinctions, and the rules that make them intelligible.Whitman himself made a point of labeling his pieces in later versions of Leaves of Grass as "poems." Although his lines were unlike most of the traditional metered verse that had come before, his assertion of genre may suggest that his intention was not to question the distinctions between genres, but rather a purposeful effort to reimagine what constituted or could constitute poetry. This, perhaps, may be a more productive way to think about Whitman's fiction—not as an early, siloed, immature effort, "the tears of foolish passion" shed by a "half-grown angry boy," but as a central part of a longer and broader story of development across themes, interests, and generic experiments. These formed a volatile combination in a writer whose imagination of himself finally broke the walls that separated lines of poetry from lines of prose in a transformative book that garnered extensive early criticism and derision—and, eventually, some of the most well-known and widely-admired poetry published in the United States. Critics have noted how aptly one line from Whitman's "The Shadow and Light of a Young Man's Soul" might describe his emergence as a distinctive American poet: "the change was not a sudden one: few great changes are."See Pollak, 54.

The revival of Whitman's fiction in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of today, as well as in other media like television, points to a revaluing of Whitman's fiction with interesting parallels to its reception in the nineteenth century. After the poet's death in 1892, newspaper editors reprinted "The Tomb-Blossoms" and "The Last of the Sacred Army" as a kind of memorial or tribute to a national poet. "The Tomb-Blossoms," with its emphasis on a widow seeking her husband's grave, in this context might have resonated with a widowed country having lost a major poetic figure. "The Last of the Sacred Army," with the Revolutionary tenor that would turn to temperance reform in its subsequent publication as part of Franklin Evans, may have implied that Whitman was somehow the last of his kind, like the "ancient being" of the tale, a man of both national and spiritual power whom people flocked to see.Purposefully or not, this tale has a certain resonance with Whitman's late years in Camden when he had become quite famous, and many visitors came to honor and speak with the renowned poet at his house on Mickle Street. As Whitman himself would recognize and try to address with his revisions of Leaves of Grass, context had a deep impact on the content of his pieces, affecting both their subject matter and the way they could be understood. The history of the reprinting of the short fiction speaks to the many different contexts within which Whitman's fiction was read, and only gestures toward the many possible meanings and interpretations that readers may have made of it over a wide geographical range and the course of historical changes spanning nearly two centuries.

The image of Whitman as a young man resonates in many ways with the character that bridges prose and verse, the "half-grown boy" whose sleep was, like that of many of Whitman's other fictional characters, the means to a revelation, the exploration of an alternative narrative that would ultimately inform and even change the course of the waking one. When did the boy become angry? Was the word added in the moment of composition, or later? Was it the confession of an identifying author or a heightening of emotion in the service of a sentimental drama? In the fiction we find Whitman crafting a monument to the tears of foolish passion, experimenting through the sentimental fiction popular at the time with ways to fund his writing and simultaneously express the angers as well as the anxieties, lonelinesses, and passions of a young man in the city, vectored through different characters and different circumstances. We dangle with anticipation on the "The" that marks the end of the poetry draft, a suggestive half-conclusion, half-transition to some other thought or direction or interruption. The open-endedness, the message unrevealed, hearkens forward to Whitman's later poetry.Whitman left off mid-line in other poetry manuscripts. For one striking example that has some linguistic resonance with the "half-grown angry boy" manuscript, see the Talbot Wilson notebook, which features the deleted segment: "I am the poet of slaves, | and of ^the masters of slaves | I am the poet of the body | And I am" With the repurposing of earlier material, the shift from prose to poetry, or vice versa, it also speaks to the significance of iteration in the meaning of Whitman's fiction.

The history of reprinting offers a connection between past and present, even to the moment of the present edition, published on The Walt Whitman Archive. Today studies of Whitman's fiction must reckon with both revision and circulation; no longer can meaning be detached from the specificity of readers and periodical editors who reproduced Whitman's stories over the span of a century. Whitman's fiction is suited in certain ways to a current critical moment in literary studies. In it we find his most explicit and extended treatment of race, an engagement with the reform movements that roiled the country at the time of its composition, less formal elegance but more evidence of a developing writer trying to find his voice and express his conflicted engagement with the world around him within a range of existing models. After Whitman's death, the reprinting of his fiction served as an act of mourning or commemoration for a country that had accepted him as a representative poet, and for a world captivated by his poetry. Reproduction of Whitman's fiction acts as a bridge between past and present, poetry and prose, and we hope the current edition speaks not only to the long history of reproductions of the fiction that came before, but also to new ways of looking at and thinking about these materials in the future.

Note on the Text

The texts provided here correspond to the earliest known periodical publications of each piece of short fiction, unless otherwise noted. We have chosen this approach for several reasons: first, to provide the reader with the texts as they were first published so that she can see the unfolding of Whitman as a fiction writer more or less as it happened in the nineteenth century. Second, we aimed to be consistent with the editorial approach taken by the editors of the "Poems in Periodicals" section of The Walt Whitman Archive. In at least one case, the first publication of Whitman's story corresponds to the first known publication of a poem that appeared directly alongside it (see "The Fireman's Dream" and "Tale of a Shirt," which both appeared on the front page of the New York Sunday Times and Noah's Weekly Messenger on March 31, 1844). These two sections of the Whitman Archive can now be put into conversation, and between them we make available a large portion of Whitman's earliest pre-1855 literary periodical production, much of it for the first time.Although Whitman's short fiction has been published before, these publications have largely been based on later versions of many of the stories. Ours is the first comprehensive edition of the earliest known periodical publication versions of these stories. Finally, in conjunction with the earliest known periodical publications of the fiction, we provide a complete bibliography and map of all known periodical reprints of the fiction. When examined alongside the bibliography, the earliest known publications of these stories allow readers to get a sense of Whitman's fiction in the context of a widespread practice of reprinting in the nineteenth century (and beyond).For a discussion of the history of what she calls the "culture of reprinting" during the time that Whitman's fiction was first published, see McGill.

In our decision to make available the earliest known periodical publications, we differ from the most comprehensive previous edition of Whitman's fiction, Thomas L. Brasher's The Early Poems and the Fiction, part of The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1963). In this volume Brasher provided the text of what "can be presumed to have been the last printed version authorized by Whitman" (xix). Information about earliest known periodical publications was included in Brasher's volume in the footnotes, in the form of citations and lists of revisions between earliest and last authorized versions. A last reason for our decision to begin with the earliest known periodical publications is that in many cases the later publications are available in Brasher. Many are also accessible on the Whitman Archive as part of Whitman's Complete Prose Works, published in 1892, which includes the text of Specimen Days & Collect (1882), for which Whitman revised and reprinted a selection of his short stories under the heading "Pieces in Early Youth." Eventually we hope to offer on the Whitman Archive images and transcriptions of all publications of the fiction in Whitman's lifetime that were likely authorized by the poet, so that the reader can compare the text of multiple versions and obtain a comprehensive list of revisions. In the meantime, we have provided information about significant (lengthy or important) revisions in the footnotes. Readers interested in the text of later publications or a complete list of the revisions to the language of the stories (not including punctuation) between the first and last authorized publications should consult Brasher's volume. There are a few surviving manuscripts that show some of the short fiction in various stages of revision, including marked proof sheets. In the future, we hope to provide images and transcriptions of these in-between-stage revisions on the Whitman Archive. For now, readers can find facsimile images and revision descriptions of several of these manuscripts in Brasher's volume. Several can also be found in the Integrated Catalog of Walt Whitman's Literary Manuscripts.

Some complications inevitably attend any choice of texts, and this set is no exception. We offer the earliest known printing of each piece of short fiction, but because the fiction was often reprinted, we cannot always be certain that the earliest known printing was in fact the earliest printing. In the case of one story, "Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem," the first two printings (in The Evening Star and The Aristidean) were roughly contemporaneous. The story appeared in the February 1845 issue of The Evening Star with The Aristidean listed as the source, even though "Shirval" did not appear until the March 1845 issue of that paper. In this and other cases with the short fiction, it is possible that the date that appeared on the issue did not exactly correspond with the date it was actually printed or distributed. In fact, we may not even always be able to be sure the earliest known printing is by Whitman. "The Love of the Four Students," for example, is unsigned in the December 9, 1843, issue of The New Mirror, and we have not been able to locate evidence in the magazine issue or any associated digitized volumes associating the story with Whitman.Although a number of the articles published in this periodical feature initials at the end—often those of the editors, Nathaniel Parker Willis and George Pope Morris—no indication of authorship or attribution appears at the end of "The Love of the Four Students." It is possible that a separate contributor list exists for The New Mirror that explicitly associates Whitman with "The Love of the Four Students" that we have not located; if readers locate or are aware of such a list, we would be grateful for that information. The story is an early draft or at minimum a source text of "The Boy-Lover," which was also printed unsigned in The American Review in May 1845, but was then reprinted in the Hingham Patriot with the initials W.W. in June 1845, and Whitman subsequently included the story in the Eagle and Collect. Conceivably it is possible that "The Love of the Four Students" may have been a story that Whitman borrowed extensively from and revised to make "The Boy-Lover." Given Whitman's tendency to revise his own work and print it again, however, and given that he included it in Collect, "The Love of the Four Students" is probably Whitman's.Whitman wrote in a notebook under the heading "Autobiographical Data" that "From the middle to the latter part of Oct. 1844 I was in New Mirror," although Edward Grier adds in a footnote that "No known file exists" (209). Herbert Bergman goes on to note that the New Mirror edited by Morris and Willis "was superseded on October 7, 1844, by the daily Evening Mirror, published by Morris and Willis. The October 1844 issues of the Evening Mirror and the Morris and Willis Weekly Mirror contain no identifiable Whitman contributions" (lxii). Brasher, apparently unaware of the existence of "The Love of the Four Students," cites the American Review version as the first publication of "The Boy-Lover." Still, the ambiguity illustrates some of the challenges for editing Whitman's short fiction that are presented by nineteenth-century periodical practices of reprinting and attribution.

We have provided revised versions as well as original publications when the story was extensively revised, as in the case of "The Child's Champion" (later "The Child and the Profligate"), "The Love of the Four Students" (later "The Boy-Lover"), and "The Reformed" (later "Little Jane"). "The Reformed" was first published independently as an advertisement excerpt for Whitman's short novel Franklin Evans. Whitman later extracted the story and published it independently as "Little Jane" without the frame narrative that fit it into the novel. Finally, we provide multiple versions for Whitman's longer story or "novella," "Arrow-Tip," which was later serialized as "The Half-Breed" in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Our treatment of this story is similar to our treatment of Franklin Evans, for which we provide images and transcriptions of the original publication as well as the revised, serialized version that Whitman published in the Eagle while he was editing that paper. Whitman reprinted a number of his other stories in the Eagle, often in installments; our next step in representing the fiction on the Whitman Archive will be to edit and make available the Eagle versions that we do not already treat. In the meantime, readers interested in the Eagle versions may consult the images of the Eagle offered by the Brooklyn Public Library online.


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