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About "Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem"

In The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction, Thomas Brasher notes that the first printing of Whitman's "Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem" occurred in the March 1845 issue of The Aristidean.1 In Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself (2000), biographer Jerome Loving points out an earlier printing of "Shirval" in the Brooklyn Evening Star newspaper in February 1845.2 Whitman's story did appear in the Evening Star; however, even though the Evening Star printed "Shirval" in February, the paper cited The Aristidean as the original source of Whitman's story. At this time, the printed dates for periodicals were often confusing, because they were not consistent in what they indicated. Issues of newspapers and magazines often included a date of publication, but that date did not always correspond to the actual day the periodical was printed. Some dates, for example, referred to the day that periodicals appeared on newsstands, while other dates indicated when they should be removed from newsstands.3 It is possible that the Aristidean March issue had already appeared by the time the Evening Star printed Whitman's story given that some periodicals required receipt of contributions and the preparation of copy well in advance of the displayed date of publication.4 Since The Evening Star credits The Aristidean as its source for "Shirval," The Walt Whitman Archive offers a transcription and images for the tale as it was published in The Aristidean.

"Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem" is a retelling of the New Testament account of a miracle of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 7:11–17, Jesus came to the village of Nain in Israel and encountered a funeral procession in which the only son of a mother was being carried out beyond the gates of the town.5 Jesus raises the young man from the dead and returns him to his mother. In the Biblical account, none of these persons have names; however, in "Shirval," Whitman names each of his characters, even adding the maiden Zar, the beloved of Shirval, the man who is being carried to his burial before he is raised from the dead. Unni is a widow and the mother of Shirval.6

"Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem" was printed in the Brooklyn Evening Star on February 18, 1845. The Evening Star was edited by Alden Spooner and his son. Whitman had worked as a compositor for the elder Spooner at the Long Island Star beginning in the fall of 1832, when Whitman was only thirteen years old, and ending on May 12, 1835.7 Whitman later wrote for the Brooklyn Evening Star, a newspaper that had Whig political leanings and also supported temperance. He contributed articles on education, music, and theater, among other topics.8

Whitman's tale was also published in the first issue of The Aristidean in March 1845. A review of this inaugural issue of The Aristidean was published in the Universalist Union, praising Whitman's story as "a sweet sketch" and promising that the editors of the Universalist Union will "take occasion to look into the work further."9 The Aristidean was a general monthly magazine edited by Dr. Thomas Dunn English, author of a popular sentimental ballad entitled "Ben Bolt." Only one volume of the magazine was ever published. In addition to short fiction tales like Whitman's, The Aristidean published poetry, book reviews, biographies, travel pieces, and articles on literature and politics.10 The Aristidean also published three additional pieces of Whitman's fiction: "Arrow-Tip," also in the March 1845 issue; "Richard Parker's Widow," in the April 1845 issue; and "Some Fact-Romances," in the December 1845 issue.

"Shirval—A Tale of Jerusalem" was also reprinted on January 22, 1846, in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, ten months after it was first published in The Aristidean and nearly two months before Whitman would become the editor of the Eagle. Later, during his two-year editorship (1846–1848), Whitman published items about fiction in the Eagle, and he 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 in the paper.11

Nearly thirty-three years later, on January 25, 1879, a revised version of "Shirval"—the first three paragraphs of the original tale were removed—was published in the Mountain Democrat newspaper in Placerville, El Dorado County, California. Further research would be necessary to determine if these revisions were Whitman's or those of a particular newspaper editor. The Mountain Democrat does not credit Whitman as the author of the tale. The word "Selected" appears after the story, but it is unclear if this means the story was "selected" from among Whitman's works or if this version of the story (without the original opening paragraphs) represents an editor's decision to print a "selected" section of the longer tale.12 This is the beginning of several reprintings of the tale in the western United States. The Ukiah City Press (Ukiah City, Medocino County, CA) picked up the story and reprinted it on February 14, 1879, followed closely by a reprinting of the story in The Washington Standard, published in what was then Olympia, Washington Territory; Washington would not become a state until ten years later, in 1889.

Whitman marked up a clipping of "Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem" from The Aristidean with his intended pagination and revisions in preparation for including the story in Specimen Days and Collect (1882). However, he ultimately chose not to include the tale in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Collect, in which he reprinted a selection of his short fiction. The clipping with Whitman's revisions is now located in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection at the Library of Congress. We note several of these intended revisions in our footnotes, as well as major revisions to the text for publication in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A complete list of Whitman's intended revisions to the story—based on his annotations of the Feinberg clipping—is recorded in Brasher.13

"Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem"

Walter Whitman Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem The Aristidean March 1845 1 12–15 per.00337


1. See Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 337. Hereafter, EPF. [back]

2. Jerome Loving, Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000), 91. [back]

3. For more information on the date of publication and nineteenth-century periodicals, see James Mussell, The Nineteenth-Century Press in the Digital Age (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 53. [back]

4. Mussell, The Nineteenth-Century Press in the Digital Age, 53. [back]

5. See Patrick McGuire, "Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem (1845)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998), 634. [back]

6. McGuire, "Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem (1845)," 634. [back]

7. David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography (New York: Vintage Books), 45. [back]

8. See Jason Stacy, Walt Whitman's Multitudes: Labor Reform and Persona in Whitman's Journalism and the First Leaves of Grass, 1840–1855 (New York: Peter Lang, 2008), 70. [back]

9. See "The Aristidean," a review published in the Universalist Union, for a mention of "Shirval" within the contexts of the entire issue. [back]

10. See Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines: 1741–1850, vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1930), 347. [back]

11. 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" (January 4–5, 1848; previously printed with the same title in The American Review). Two of Whitman's stories, including "Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem," were reprinted in the Eagle before he became the paper's editor in March 1846. Whitman's "The Death of Wind Foot" was also 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. [back]

12. For full citations and further information about reprints of "Shirval: A Tale of Jerusalem," 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): 233–235. [back]

13. See Brasher, EPF, 292–295. [back]

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