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About "The Boy-Lover"

"The Boy-Lover" is a revised and re-titled version of "The Love of the Four Students," a short story that appeared in the December 9, 1843, issue of Nathaniel Parker (N. P.) Willis and George Pope (G. P.) Morris's The New Mirror: A Saturday Paper of Literature and the Fine Arts, a weekly newspaper that printed literary essays, short fiction, poetry, and translations of literary works. Whitman made substantial editorial changes to the earlier story, and it was first published with the title "The Boy-Lover" in the May 1845 issue of The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art, and Science.

The American Review was a monthly journal edited by George H. Colton, author of Tecumseh; or, the West Thirty Years Since (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1842). The American Review served as "the major political and literary magazine of the national Whig party."1 It was the Whig counterpart to the Democrats' publication The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, where nine of Whitman's short stories had been printed in 1841 and 1842. The American Review published long articles on philosophy, religion, and history in addition to providing biographies of significant statesmen of the day.2 It was perhaps best known for publishing Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" in the February 1845 issue.3 The circulation of the journal was "three to five thousand at any given time."4 The introduction to the journal's opening issue sheds light on the political position of the Whig party: "Protection to the laborer and the producer, to the merchant and manufacturer; integrity and economy in the discharge of official trusts; the vigilant defence, as against the world, of national dignity and honor; the observance of honor and good faith in all our deadlines with and treatment of other nations; the establishment and maintenance of a sound currency; an enlargement of the means of revenue, and a proper provision for its safe-keeping; an extension of the resources of the country by the construction of harbors, roads, and canals, as the wants of the people demand them . . . these form an outline of the distinctive principles of the Whig party."5 In 1845, the American Review also published Whitman's "The Death of Wind-Foot."

The plot of "The Boy-Lover" is the same as "The Love of the Four Students: A Chronicle of New York," which is currently the earliest known printing of the story. In "The Boy-Lover," the 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.6 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. 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."7 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."8 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 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 now three male students remain, continuing as strong as ever, even thriving merely days after Ninon's death. Whitman portrays the tavern or the barroom as a male space and/or as a space that facilitates the formation of male friendships in other fiction works, namely "Wild Frank's Return," "The Child's Champion" (later "The Child and the Profligate"), and in his temperance novel Franklin Evans.

One of the most significant differences between "The Love of the Four Students" and "The Boy Lover" is that Whitman added several paragraphs to the beginning of "The Boy-Lover," presenting it more clearly as a chronicle told by an older narrator meant to provide a lesson for the young since the story itself includes the deaths of both Ninon and Matthew. Whitman's editorial changes from "The Love of the Four Students" to "The Boy-Lover" merit further exploration.

Once Whitman had revised the tale and it had appeared in the American Review, a version of the story with the revised beginning was reprinted in the Ladies' Garland and Family Wreath (Philadelphia, PA) and the Alton Telegraph & Democratic Review (Alton, IL), among other newspapers. This version of the tale was also one of only a few stories by Whitman that were published internationally. The story appeared without any attribution in Lloyd's Entertaining Journal, a penny publication printed in London that included short stories and serialized novels, on June 12, 1847.9

Whitman then reprinted "The Boy-Lover" himself as a two-part piece of serial fiction in the January 4 and January 5, 1848, issues of 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 published items about fiction in the Eagle, and he also showed renewed interest in short stories he had written just a few years earlier. He revised and reprinted Franklin Evans and thirteen of his short fiction pieces, including "The Boy-Lover," in the paper.10

Whitman later chose to include "The Boy-Lover" in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days and Collect (1882), in which he published a selection of his short fiction.11 Several of the revisions Whitman made to "The Boy-Lover" prior to its publication in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Collect 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.12

"The Boy-Lover"

Walter Whitman The Boy-Lover American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art, and Science May 1845 1 479–482 per.00345


1. Wesley Allen Riddle, "Culture and Politics: The American Whig Review, 1845–1852," Humanitas 8.1 (1995): 44. [back]

2. Riddle, "Culture and Politics," 46. [back]

3. Stephen Rachman, "American Whig Review," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998), 20. [back]

4. Riddle, "Culture and Politics," 48. [back]

5. "Introductory," The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art, and Science 1.1 (January 1845): 1–4. [back]

6. Patrick McGuire, "Boy Lover, The (1845)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, 71–72. [back]

7. "The Love of the Four Students: A Chronicle of New York," The New Mirror 2 (December 9, 1843): 155. [back]

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

9. For full citations and further information about these and other reprints of "The Boy-Lover," 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): 231–232. [back]

10. 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), and "Death in the school room" (December 24, 1847; formerly "Death in the School-Room. A Fact"). 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]

11. See Walt Whitman, "The Boy Lover," in Specimen Days & Collect (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882), 357–361. "Pieces in Early Youth" was also reprinted in Whitman's Complete Prose Works (1892): see "The Boy Lover." [back]

12. 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. [back]

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