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About "A Legend of Life and Love"

"A Legend of Life and Love" was first published in the July 1842 issue of The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, often referred to simply as The Democratic Review. It was the seventh of nine Whitman 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), "The Child-Ghost; A Story of the Last Loyalist" (May 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 short stories began appearing in The Democratic Review; he was only twenty-three years old when "A Legend of Life and Love" was published. 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 Democratic Review's prestige may help explain why two stories published in the journal—"Death in the School-Room. A Fact." and "A Legend of Life and Love"—became Whitman's most often reprinted tales. In fact, four of the five most often reprinted pieces of Whitman's short fiction were first published in The Democratic Review.

Whitman's "A Legend of Life and Love" is a brief, moral tale that focuses on the separation of and subsequent reunion between two brothers, a theme that also appears in "Wild Frank's Return." In the story, two brothers, Nathan, the elder, and Mark, the younger, are raised by their grandfather. Their grandfather offers them life advice, explaining that "Evil men swarm in every place; and sorrow and disappointment are the fruits of intercourse with them" and warning them against falling in love because either "the object of our affection dies" or "the love that we covet dies, and that is more painful yet."3 After the death of their grandfather, Nathan and Mark take different paths in life and for fifty years, the two are separated. However, they meet again, and when they finally reunite, they tell each other two very different stories. Nathan has not heeded his grandfather's advice. He has engaged in business transactions with others in his profession; he has married and fathered children. In contrast, Mark has lived as his grandfather instructed, presumably to avoid pain and disappointment. Even though Nathan has experienced the loss of loved ones and the consequences that come with being cheated in business dealings, he delivers the moral or the "great truth" of the story, telling Mark, "Dear brother, the world has misery; but it is a pleasant world still, and affords much joy to the dwellers," implying that in insulating himself against the pain of the world, Mark has also failed to take risks and, by extension, to experience the greatest joys in life.4

The reprints of this tale are largely concentrated in the months after its first publication, when it was reprinted in the Northeast and the South. It remains the second most often reprinted tale among Whitman's short stories. Its impressive number of reprintings lends support to the claims about Whitman's fiction made by a writer for The Dollar Newspaper (Philadelphia, PA) in a brief September 13, 1843, article entitled "Pay of American Writers." In the article, the writer claims, "Recently were published, the sketch of 'Death in the School Room' and a 'Legend of Life and Love,' both of which, as they respectively appeared, were copied by three fourths of the newspapers in America, and universally admired." The writer goes on to assert that the author of those two stories (Whitman is never mentioned by name) "received only five dollars in payment for them" because he had not yet established a name for himself as a fiction writer.5

Whitman revised and then reprinted "A Legend of Life and Love" himself on June 11, 1846, in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, while he was serving as the editor of that paper. During his two-year editorship (1846–1848), Whitman not only published items about fiction in the Eagle, but he also showed renewed interest in the fiction he had written just a few years earlier. He revised and reprinted his only temperance novel and thirteen of his own short fiction pieces, including "A Legend of Life and Love," in the paper.6 Before reprinting the story in the Eagle, Whitman made changes to the language of the original and, perhaps most significantly, removed the first paragraph of the story as it appeared in The Democratic Review. Several of the revisions to the original story made or authorized by Whitman in preparation for publication in the Eagle are recorded in our footnotes. For a reprint of the Eagle version of the story and a complete list of revisions to the language of the original story made or authorized by Whitman prior to publication there, see Thomas Brasher's The Early Poems and the Fiction.7

Two months after Whitman ran the revised story in the Eagle, on August 13, 1846, "A Legend of Life and Love," with the shortened beginning, was reprinted in the Stanstead Journal, a newspaper published in Rock Island, Stanstead, Canada.8 This is the same year that another story by Whitman, "The Death of Wind-Foot," appeared in the Colonial Times and Tasmanian in Hobart, Van Diemen's Land, or what is now known as Tasmania.9

Although both The Democratic Review and the Eagle versions each have their own sets of reprints, it is the original version of the story that seems to be reprinted most often. Reprintings of the story frequently appeared on the first page of the newspaper, and they are also published under several variant titles, including "The Legend of Life and Love," "Legend of Life and Love," "A Legend of Love and Life," and even as simply "Life and Love" in at least two newspapers in Massachusetts. The story also seems to have garnered quite a following in the Southern States, as it was reprinted several times in North Carolina and Georgia and at least once in Florida and Texas.10 Whitman did not choose to include it in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days and Collect (1882), in which he reprinted a selection of his short stories. However, the Eagle version of "A Legend of Life and Love" (1846) was later reprinted, along with The Eagle version of Whitman's "Wild Frank's Return" (1846), in the special centenary edition of the Eagle honoring the 100th anniversary of Whitman's birth, on May 31, 1919. This issue of the paper contained a 12-page Walt Whitman section celebrating the poet's life and writings.11

"A Legend of Life and Love"

Walter Whitman A Legend of Life and Love The United States Magazine and Democratic Review July 1842 11 83–86 per.00325


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. See Whitman's "A Legend of Life and Love." [back]

4. See Whitman's "A Legend of Life and Love." For more on the moral of the story, see Patrick McGuire, "Legend of Life and Love, A (1842)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, 388–389. [back]

5. "Pay of American Writers," The Dollar Newspaper, September 13, 1843, [3]. [back]

6. For more information about Whitman's editorship at The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, see Dennis K. Renner, "Brooklyn Daily Eagle," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, 79–80. As editor of the Eagle, Whitman also revised and reprinted "Wild Frank's Return" (May 8, 1846), "The Half-Breed; A Tale of the Western Frontier" (June 1–6 and 8–9, 1846; formerly "Arrow-Tip"), "Dumb Kate—An early death" (July 13, 1846), "The Love of Eris.—A Spirit Record" (August 18, 1846; formerly "Eris; A Spirit Record"), "One Wicked Impulse! (A tale of a Murderer escaped.)" (September 7–9, 1846; formerly "Revenge and Requital; A Tale of a Murderer Escaped"), "Fortunes of a Country-Boy" (November 16–30, 1846; a significantly revised version of the temperance novel Franklin Evans; or, The Inebriate. A Tale of the Times), "Little Jane" (December 7, 1846), three of the five parts of "Some Fact-Romances" (the second Fact-Romance as "The Old Black Widow" on November 12, 1846, the first Fact-Romance as "A Fact-Romance of Long Island" on December 16, 1846, and the fifth Fact-Romance as "An Incident on Long Island Forty Years Ago" on December 24, 1846), "The Child and the Profligate" (January 27–29, 1847; previously printed with the same title in the Columbian Magazine), "Death in the school room" (December 24, 1847; formerly "Death in the School-Room. A Fact"), and "The Boy-Lover" (January 4–5, 1848; previously printed with the same title in The American Review). Two of Whitman's stories were reprinted in the Eagle before he became the paper's editor in March 1846. Whitman's "The Death of Wind Foot" was reprinted as a work of serial fiction (August 29–30, 1845) about two months after the story was published in The American Review in June 1845. "Shirval—A Tale of Jerusalem" was reprinted on January 22, 1846, ten months after it was first published in The Aristidean in March 1845. [back]

7. See Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 115–119. [back]

8. See "A Legend of Life and Love," Stanstead Journal, August 13, 1846, [1]. For full citations and further information on reprints of all known versions of "A Legend of Life and Love," 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): 215–223. [back]

9. W. Whitman, "The Death of Wind-Foot," Colonial Times and Tasmanian, April 7, 1846, [4]. [back]

10. For full citations and further information on reprints with these variant titles and a complete list of reprints in these and other Southern states, see Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography. See also Blalock, "Bibliography of Walt Whitman's Short Fiction in Periodicals," 215–223. [back]

11. Walter Whitman, "A Legend of Life and Love," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Walt Whitman Centenary Edition, with a 12-page Walt Whitman section), May 31, 1919, 10. [back]

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