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About "The Child-Ghost; A Story of the Last Loyalist

"The Child-Ghost; A Story of the Last Loyalist" was first published in the May 1842 issue of The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, often referred to simply as The Democratic Review. It was the sixth of nine short stories that were published for the first time in the journal—the eight others being "Death in the School-Room. A Fact." (August 1841), "Wild Frank's Return" (November 1841), "Bervance: or, Father and Son" (December 1841), "The Tomb-Blossoms" (January 1842), "The Last of the Sacred Army" (March 1842), "A Legend of Life and Love" (July 1842), "The Angel of Tears" (September 1842), and "Revenge and Requital; A Tale of a Murderer Escaped" (July/August 1845).

The Democratic Review, jointly founded by John L. O'Sullivan and Samuel D. Langtree, promoted liberal democratic politics and became a prestigious literary magazine of the time. In addition to publishing articles on national policy and playing an important role as an organ of the Democratic Party, The Democratic Review formed longstanding publishing relationships with well known nineteenth-century fiction writers and poets, thereby building its reputation for literary excellence.1 The editors published works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry David Thoreau, among others. Whitman was in his early twenties when his stories began appearing in The Democratic Review. The journal also published Whitman's "A Dialogue [Against Capital Punishment]" (November 1845) and, later, a review of Leaves of Grass titled "Walt Whitman And His Poems" that he wrote himself (September 1855).2

"The Child-Ghost; a Story of the Last Loyalist" is frequently read as a historical ghost story. The tale is an account of Vanhome, a loyalist living in the United States during the Revolutionary War. Vanhome joins the British military, where he fights relentlessly for the loyalist cause. He shows neither mercy nor sympathy for the American armies or for the local civilians. Just prior to the end of the war, when it is apparant that the British have lost, he returns to his family estate and encounters the Gills, tenants of the estate. Vanhome does not identify himself to Mr. Gills, and the elderly man, not realizing that he is talking to Vanhome, describes the last loyalist as a man who has beaten a boy—the orphaned son of Vanhome's brother—to death. That night Vanhome stays with the Gills on the estate, and he sleeps in the room where the boy died. He is haunted by the ghost of the boy, so he flees on the last British ship leaving the United States.3

Whitman's "The Child-Ghost" was primarily reprinted in New York, and it is also one of the few short stories that received some commentary in nineteenth-century periodicals. In an article that praised the May 1842 issue of the Democratic Review, a writer for the Daily Troy Budget enthusiastically declared "Walter Whitman" to be "a favorite with us" and pronounced the "Child-Ghost" a "fine story," suggesting that Whitman's fiction was popular with the paper's readers and editors alike.4 The Daily Troy Budget reprinted at least six pieces of Whitman's fiction, including "The Child-Ghost," which was printed as a two-part serial.5 "The Child-Ghost" was later reprinted in the June 1842 issue of The New York Visitor and Lady's Album, which was advertised as an affordable magazine that printed selected pieces "peculiarly adapted for the Lady's Boudoir," yet "useful and interesting to the whole public."6 The tale was also reprinted in the Pennsylvania Inquirer and National Gazette in 1842 and in the Concord Freeman in 1844.7

Whitman chose to include the tale in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days & Collect (1882), in which he reprinted a selection of his short stories. Whitman revised "The Child-Ghost" and shortened the title to simply "The Last Loyalist" in preparation for publication in Collect.8 Several of Whitman's revisions to the story for publication in Collect are recorded in our footnotes. For a reprint of the Collect version of the story and a more complete list of revisions to the language of the original made or authorized by Whitman for publication there, see Thomas Brasher's The Early Poems and the Fiction.9

"The Child-Ghost; A Story of the Last Loyalist"

Walter Whitman The Child-Ghost; A Story of the Last Loyalist The United States Magazine and Democratic Review May 1842 10 451–459 per.00323


1. Susan Belasco Smith, "Democratic Review," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998), 175–176. [back]

2. Smith, "Democratic Review," 176. [back]

3. Patrick McGuire, "Last Loyalist, The (1842)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, 350–351. [back]

4. See "Democratic Review," Daily Troy Budget, May 6, 1842, [2]. [back]

5. Walter Whitman, "The Child Ghost; A Story of the Last Loyalist," Daily Troy Budget, May 10–11, 1842, [2]. For full citations and further information about reprints of "The Child-Ghost; A Story of the Last Loyalist," see Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography. See also Stephanie M. Blalock, "Bibliography of Walt Whitman's Short Fiction in Periodicals," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 30 (2013): 214–215. [back]

6. Walter Whitman, "The Child-Ghost; A Story of the Last Loyalist," The New-York Visitor and Lady's Album 3 (June 1842), 139–143. The The New-York Visitor and Lady's Album is advertised as such on the pages preceeding the table of contents for some issues, including that of June 1842. [back]

7. See Walter Whitman, "The Child-Ghost: A Story of the Last Loyalist," Pennsylvania Inquirer and National Gazette, September 17, 1842, [1]; "The Child-Ghost: A Story of the Last Loyalist," Concord Freeman, October 25, 1844, [1]. [back]

8. See Walt Whitman, "The Last Loyalist," in Specimen Days & Collect (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882), 349–353. "Pieces in Early Youth" was also reprinted in Whitman's Complete Prose Works (1892): see "The Last Loyalist." [back]

9. See Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 101–109. [back]

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