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About "The Love of the Four Students: A Chronicle of New York"

"The Love of the Four Students: A Chronicle of New-York" is a recently discovered piece of short fiction that is an earlier version of Whitman's "The Boy-Lover." "The Love of the Four Students" apparently was first published in the December 9, 1843, issue of Nathaniel Parker Willis and George Pope Morris's The New Mirror: A Saturday Paper of Literature and the Fine Arts (New York, NY), a weekly newspaper that printed literary essays, short fiction, poetry, and translations of literary works. Willis was an editor, poet, and an author in his own right; he is also known as the employer of Harriet Jacobs, the former slave and future author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Morris was a well-known poet, literary critic, and songwriter, and he had also co-founded the New York Evening Mirror with Willis.

Morris and Willis had commenced a new series of The New Mirror in October 1843, only two months before Whitman's story appeared in the paper. In an advertisement for the paper, the editors announced, "In the literary department, VARIETY is our only promise; and, in assuring our readers that the New Mirror shall not be edited exclusively by a pair of scissors, we think we offer them something, in these days, a little peculiar." In other words, the paper promised to be more than a collection of literary pieces reprinted from other publications. The editors continued, emphasizing that because the paper was sixteen pages of "closely printed matter" embellished with steel engravings, it was offering value for the price, which was only $3 per year.1

In "The Love of the Four Students," four young men who are studying in preparation to enter their professional lives have adopted the habit of using their one free afternoon per week as a chance to socialize at a tavern. The tavern is owned by a widow who has a beautiful daughter named Ninon, and each of the four are either explicitly or implicitly in love with Ninon. When Ninon dies suddenly and unexpectedly, three of them grieve for her, while the narrator's brother Matthew keeps his feelings of loss private, even though he loved Ninon as much if not more than the other young men.2 Interestingly enough, the three youths—all except Matthew—have found another tavern and are laughing and joking again within days of Ninon's funeral. In contrast, Matthew's unexpressed grief "wrought a poison and a pain too great for show, and the youth died."3 The critic Patrick McGuire reads this grief as the cause of Matthew's death and sees "death through grief" as a theme in Whitman's fiction either implicitly—as in "Death in the School-Room"—or explicitly in such tales as "Dumb Kate" and Some Fact-Romances."4 It is also possible to read this ending as one place in the short fiction that reveals Whitman's interest in the intense friendships that are possible between men, in this case, in the barroom setting. Here, both Ninon and Matthew, the two who perhaps held the strongest feelings for one another, do not survive the story; yet the friendships between the remaining three male students persist, as strong as ever, even thriving merely days after Ninon's death. Other fiction works that present the barroom as a social environment conducive to the formation of romantic attachments and/or male friendships include Franklin Evans, the unfinished novel fragment "The Madman," and Whitman's short stories "The Child’s Champion" and "Dumb Kate."

"The Love of the Four Students" was reprinted in the Northeast and in Missouri following its appearance in The New Mirror. Ten days later, on December 19, 1843, it appeared in the Hudson River Chronicle (Sing-Sing, NY), and a month later it was reprinted in the Boone's Lick Times on January 27, 1844, in the small town of Fayette, Missouri.5 Approximately two years later, Whitman would revise "The Love of the Four Students," adding several paragraphs to the beginning of the story and changing the title to "The Boy-Lover" before sending it to The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art, and Science, where it was printed as "The Boy-Lover" for the first time in the May 1845 issue.

After "The Boy-Lover" was published in The American Review, Whitman later reprinted it under that title two more times. He published "The Boy-Lover" as a two-part piece of serial fiction in the January 4 and 5, 1848, issues of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat while he was editor of that paper.6 He made a few additional changes to the story before reprinting it again in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days and Collect (1882), in which he published a selection of his short fiction. Several of the revisions Whitman made to the American Review version of "The Boy-Lover" (1845) prior to its publication in the Eagle (1848) and in Collect (1882) are recorded in our footnotes to the American Review version. For a complete list of revisions to the language of the story made or authorized by Whitman for publication in Specimen Days & Collect, see Thomas L. Brasher's The Early Poems and the Fiction.7

"The Love of the Four Students: A Chronicle of New York"

Walter Whitman The Love of the Four Students: A Chronicle of New York The New Mirror: A Saturday Paper of Literature and the Fine Arts December 9, 1843 2 153–155 per.00339


1. For the full advertisement, see "New Series. The New Mirror," The New Mirror 2 (October 7, 1843): n.p. [back]

2. The major plot events of "The Love of the Four Students" are the same as those in the later version, "The Boy-Lover." For a detailed plot summary, see Patrick McGuire, "Boy Lover, The (1845)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998), 71–72. [back]

3. See Whitman's "The Love of the Four Students." [back]

4. McGuire, "Boy Lover, The (1845)," 72. [back]

5. See "The Love of the Four Students. A Chronicle of New-York," The Hudson River Chronicle, December 19, 1843, [1]; "The Love of the Four Students. A Chronicle of New-York," Boon's Lick Times, January 27, 1844, [1]. For full citations and further information about reprints of "The Love of the Four Students," 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): 230–231. [back]

6. During his two-year editorship at the Eagle, Whitman revised and reprinted his only temperance novel and thirteen of his own short fiction pieces in the paper. 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"), "A Legend of Life and Love" (June 11, 1846), "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." 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 appeared 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), 302–308. For a publication history of the story under its later title of "The Boy-Lover," see "About 'The Boy-Lover.'" [back]

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