Monday, March 2, 2009

Walt Whitman in Magazines

It's a snow day in New Jersey. The dog and two cats are snoozing away and my "s.o." and editorial assistant, Katherine, is working from home. My office hours have been deferred to Wednesday and my daily FDR mania has been temporarily satisfied. It's time for a blog post!

At a relatively quiet, contemplative time, my thoughts turn to America's most revered and beloved poet, Walt Whitman. The gentle and compassionate New Yorker, turned New Jerseyan began his writing in newspapers and then often published in magazines. Most of his earliest newspaper work is lost. Even the greatest repository in the world of pre-1876 American newspapers, The American Antiquarian Society, does not have a copy of The Long-Islander, Whitman's own paper from the late 1830's.

On the comprehensive and authoritarian website of the Walt Whitman Project, there is a list of Whitman's poetry in periodicals, beginning with ten contribution to the newspaper, The Long Island Democrat, between 1839 and 1841. From a semantic standpoint, this is incorrect. Newspapers are not periodicals, since they are not issued periodically. Therefore, this takes us to his first true periodical appearance in United States Magazine and Democratic Review for August 1841.

It is a short story entited "Death in the School-Room. A Fact", here reproduced in its entirety for your reading pleasure:

Whitman's first story in a periodical

The first poem in a magazine was in the November 20 1841 issue of Park Benjamin's New World. The front page also features another Whitman story. Within the issue are serializations of stories by Charles Dickens.

The first poem appeared in Brother Jonathan, in November 1841. (By the way, "Brother Jonathan", was the term that identified an American before "Uncle Sam", taken from Jonathan Trumbull, a Connecticut Revolutionary War figure called by Washington "the first patriot")

The New World also published Whitman's only novella in 1842, a work based on a temperance (anti-alcohol) theme "Franklin Evans; The Inebriate. It appeared in a supplementary issue and is quite scarce and valuable. I see it regularly quoted for around $5000.

No copy is known in original wrappers. If one surfaced it would sell for considerably more. I do have another issue in original wrappers so I imagine it would look similarly:

Whitman appeared in many magazines until his death at age 72, including quite a few in the first volume of The Critic from 1881.

The best reference work here is a book compiled by Richard West and myself in 1997, sparked by the fact that the standard refernce work Bibliography of American Literature does not include periodical appearances. Copies of Bibliography of American Literature in Periodicals, which includes all the known first periodical appearances of not only Whitman (including some not noted in the comprehensive Walt Whitman Project list!), but of Poe, Twain, Hawthorn Thoreau and others are available from Periodyssey at

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