Walt Whitman, the great bearded sensualist of American verse, was reluctant to talk about the years that preceded the first editions of his magnum opus, Leaves Of Grass, when he worked in newspapers around New York. Before he was known as a poet, Whitman was a printer’s devil, a typesetter, a journalist, an editor, and even published his own newspaper for a time. He also wrote fiction, all of which he would later disown.
Now, one of these early prose works—Life And Adventures Of Jack Engle, a previously unknown short novel from 1852—has been rediscovered. Originally serialized over six installments in a weekly called The Sunday Dispatch, Jack Engle was published anonymously and never reprinted or mentioned again. The novel was discovered by University Of Houston graduate student Zachary Turpin, who came across some notes in the writer’s papers that led him to the Sunday Dispatch serial. Just last year, Turpin discovered another previously unknown Whitman text, “Manly Health and Training,” a lengthy “self-help treatise” that had been published in 1858. The New York Times has the full story.
Turpin published his findings in the latest issue of Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, along with the full text of Jack Engle, which you can read here in PDF format. Hard copies are for available from University Of Iowa Press. The Times describes it as a “quasi-Dickensian tale of an orphan’s adventures” featuring “a villainous lawyer, virtuous Quakers, glad-handing politicians, a sultry Spanish dancer and more than a few unlikely plot twists and jarring narrative shifts,” and quotes a Whitman expert as saying that it represented the future great American poet’s “take on the city mystery novel, a popular genre of the day.”