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About "The Madman"

On May 2, 1888, in conversation with Horace Traubel in Camden, Walt Whitman distanced himself from his temperance novel Franklin Evans; or the Inebriate. A Tale of the Times (1842), declaring it "damned rot—rot of the worst sort" and insisting that he "never cut a chip off that kind of timber again."1 Even though Whitman asserted that he never again composed in part or in whole another work of temperance fiction, he wrote some short stories with temperance themes after the publication of Franklin Evans, including "The Love of the Four Students" (January 1843; later "The Boy-Lover") and "Dumb Kate.—An Early Death" (May 1844), and he even seems to have started a second novel entitled "The Madman," the first installment of which was published in 1843.2

Two chapters of "The Madman" were published in The Washingtonian and Organ, a New York temperance newspaper, on January 28, 1843, approximately two months after the publication of Franklin Evans. The second chapter ends with the words "to be continued"; however, no additional parts of the novel have been discovered in The Washingtonian and Organ or in any other periodical. The Washingtonian and Organ, a weekly paper edited by James Burns, was the result of the merging of two temperance newspapers, The Organ and the Washingtonian. In February 1843, the Journal of the American Temperance Union announced that the papers had merged, describing The Washingtonian and Organ as "an excellent weekly paper which has done so much to sustain the great reformation in our city, and which has taken a noble stand on the connection between Washingtonianism, improved morals, and religion."3

The Washingtonian and Organ was a Saturday paper that cost three cents per number and typically printed accounts of meetings and articles and works of fiction and poetry in support of the temperance cause, and, more specifically, of the Washingtonians or the Washington temperance movement. The Washington temperance movement was popular in New York in the early 1840s when Whitman wrote both Franklin Evans and "The Madman." He mentioned the Washingtonian societies by name at the beginning of Franklin Evans and even reported on a Washingtonian temperance parade and an experience meeting for the New York Aurora in 1842.4 Given this context, then, it is likely that the fragment of the novel "The Madman" was intended to support temperance in general, if not the Washingtonians in particular. The chapters appear on the front page of the newspaper, but Whitman is never named as the author. The byline informs readers only that "The Madman" is "by the author of Franklin Evans," suggesting that its reading audience is more likely to recognize the name of that work than the name of its author, Walter Whitman. In fact, it might have been Park Benjamin and James Burns who commissioned Whitman to write Franklin Evans in the first place.5 Given that Burns was responsible for the editorial department at The Washingtonian and Organ, and that the extra edition containing Franklin Evans sold some 20,000 copies—sales figures that would certainly have been attractive to Burns—it is tempting to speculate that Whitman was similarly asked to write "The Madman" as a serial novel that would have been published one or two chapters each week, as suggested by the "to be continued" note at the end of the second chapter. "The Madman" opens with a vivid description of a New York eating house in which the customers are characterized as honest men who are left to tally their bills and pay their tabs before leaving the establishment. At the eating house, Richard Arden meets Pierre Barcoure, a descendant of French radicals, and the two become friends.6

Whitman's focus on the intense friendship between the two men might be read as a predecessor to his exploration of adhesiveness and comradeship or male romantic friendships in the Calamus poems.7 Male friendships and the portrayal of eating and drinking houses as important places in which those friendships can develop occurs not only in "The Madman," but also in Franklin Evans, "The Love of the Four Students," and even "The Child's Champion."

Both "The Madman" and the short story "Reuben's Last Wish" were unknown to twentieth-century literary critics until their rediscovery by Whitman scholar Emory Holloway in 1956. Holloway announced both finds in the January 1956 issue of American Literature.8 It remains uncertain whether these chapters of "The Madman" were reprinted—in part or in whole—or whether Whitman finished the story or simply abandoned it. Whitman did not choose to include this fragment in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days and Collect (1882), a volume in which he reprinted a selection of his short stories. Glenn Hendler and Christopher Castiglia recently reprinted "The Madman" in their scholarly edition of Franklin Evans, or the Inebriate (2007).9

"The Madman"

Walter Whitman The Madman The Washingtonian and Organ January, 28 1843 [1] per.00330


1. See Traubel's entry in With Walt Whitman in Camden dated Wednesday, May 2, 1888. [back]

2. Thomas Brasher speculates that "The Madman" was "intended to be a temperance novel or novelette." See Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 240–243. [back]

3. See Journal of the American Temperance Union, February 1843, 27. [back]

4. See Whitman's articles for the New York Aurora: "Temperance Among the Firemen!" (March 30, 1842) and "Scenes of Last Night" (April 1, 1842). [back]

5. Michael Warner, "Whitman Drunk," in Breaking Bounds: Whitman and American Cultural Studies, ed. Betsy Erkkila and Jay Grossman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 34. [back]

6. For a complete synopsis of the story, see Patrick McGuire, "Madman, The (1843)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 416. [back]

7. Jerome Loving, Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 78–79. [back]

8. See Emory Holloway, "More Temperance Tales by Whitman," American Literature 27 (January 1956): 577–578. [back]

9. See Walt Whitman, Franklin Evans, or the Inebriate, ed. Glenn Hendler and Christopher Castiglia (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007). [back]

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