Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: James Matlack Scovel to Walt Whitman, 6 January 1890

Date: January 6, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03719

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Washington DC
C. W. SPOFFORD, Proprietor,
1. 6th. , 1890

Walt. Whitman
Dear Walt

The day I came away from home Mary2 and the children3 were much delighted with the Picture, and the pretty "last Books" you had printed. We all want you to come to dinner soon. My sister4 the wife of Rev Dr Shields5 of Bristol is very very ill—

She is one of the noblest and best women on earth—and has raised a large family and like many a poor preachers wife, worked too hard in the life–struggle. It is my sister Sallie.

Wm R. Bates6 once Treasury Agent with me is now Private Sec'y of US Senator McMillan.7 He is now writing a Eulogistic sketch of you for the Chicago Tribune. You will remember him as one of the dear delightful boys—who, with the frisky and erudite Hines,8 used to enjoy the old time breakfasts at 113 Arch by the "sea coal fire"—. Bates is crazy to get the new Whitman Book. He will pay for one if you will let him: but I tell him you won't!

If you send it, put your autograph in it and direct it

"Hon. Wm R Bates
Care US Senator McMillan
Washington DC"—

You are well remembered here by all the old Boys, who wish you many years of your good old age— I tell em you never grow old.

I sent the Baker9 letter about you to The Times the other day—

Remember me kindly to Mary Davis.10 She is of the salt of the earth.

yours affectionately;
James Matlack Scovel.

James Matlack Scovel (1833–1904) began to practice law in Camden in 1856. During the Civil War, he was in the New Jersey legislature and became a colonel in 1863. He campaigned actively for Horace Greeley in 1872, and was a special agent for the U.S. Treasury during Chester Arthur's administration. In the 1870s, Whitman frequently went to Scovel's home for Sunday breakfast (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). For a description of these breakfasts, see Walt Whitman's Diary in Canada, ed. William Sloane Kennedy (Boston: Small, Maynard, 1904), 59–60. For Scovel, see George R. Prowell's The History of Camden County, New Jersey (Philadelphia: L. J. Richards, 1886).


1. In the lower left corner of the envelope, Scovel has written: Jan 8. This letter is addressed: for/ Walt Whitman. | 328 Mickle— | Camden, NJ. It is postmarked: Washington, D.C. | Jan 8 | 12PM | [illegible]. [back]

2. Mary Mulford Scovel (1831–1893) of Camden, New Jersey, was the daughter of Dr. Isaac Skillman Mulford and his wife Rachel Mickle Mulford. Mary was a member of the Society of Friends, and she married James Matlock Scovel in 1856. [back]

3. Mary Mulford Scovel and James Matlack Scovel had three children: Mary (Scovel) Kookejay Senor, Anna Dean (Scovel) Brooke, and Henry Sydney Scovel. [back]

4. Sarah ("Sallie") Scovel Shields (1837–1890) was James's older sister; she was the eldest girl and second child of Sylvester Scovel and his wife Hannah Cook Matlack Scovel. Sarah married Edward P. Shields in 1858, and together they had six children. [back]

5. Edward P. Shields (1833–1917) was married to Sarah Scovel Shields; he was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. [back]

6. William R. Bates (1845–1921) began his career as a reporter in Michigan and Chicago, then later he undertook legal and governmental work, primarily in Michigan. He held a variety of positions in the United States Pension Bureau, the State Central Committee, and the Treasury Department, and later served as a United States Marshall. [back]

7. Senator James McMillan (1838–1902) was the president and founder of the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway, as well as a Republican Senator from Michigan. He also served as the chair of the Senate Park Improvement Commission of the District of Columbia (the McMillan Commission), and the Commission's recommendations continue to guide urban planning in and around Washington D.C. [back]

8. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

9. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

10. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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