Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: James Scovel to Walt Whitman, 26 November 1888

Date: November 26, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03749

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: Ryan Furlong, Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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11 26 '88

Walt Whitman
Dear Walt.

I met Maurice Barrymore,1 the actor who was playing in "Held by the Enemy"2 at the Academy last week. He asked about you with the deepest interest, and said he would write to you during his present engagement in New York, where he now is—

He is wonderfully bright & entertaining and holds you in affectionate & reverent memory. The election of Harrison,3 toward which event I worked with all the vim in me, seems to put a little better lining on the edge of the clouds which, in spite of myself seem to have "encompassed me about" for the past two years. I can, at least, get my old place back again and may get something better. I am still writing for the Times.

Mrs Scovel bid me say that she wants to come & see you. Dear Walt! My most pleasing recollections of Camden are associated with that old House in Arch St., the quiet Sunday dinners, and the blazing Hickory fire before which you used to [illegible]. Well: maybe they will all come again. With best wishes I am Affect'ly yours

James M Scovel

PS Maybe when as Bryant4 says "The May sun sheds an amber light, the new-leaved woods and lawns between,"5—maybe, we can drive down again to Gloucester and with the generous "Statesman" Thompson,6 partake of the toothsome shad, and the "wine divine from the Champagne county. Walt: these were pleasant Hours.

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. Maurice Barrymore (1849–1905) was the stage name of Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blythe who was born in India and later educated in England. He became a boxing champion before taking up acting; he emigrated to the United States and debuted in Augustin Daly's play Under the Gaslight. He married the actress Georgiana Drew, and he starred in Broadway productions and headlined in Vaudeville. Barrymore is the great-grandfather of actress Drew Barrymore. For more on Barrymore's biography, see James Kotsilibas-Davis, Great Times, Good Times: The Odyssey of Maurice Barrymore (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1977). [back]

2. A play by William Gillette (1853–1937), set during the Civil War, and now recognized as having a significant influence on modern realism in American drama. It was first performed in 1886 in the Madison Square Theatre, followed by numerous revivals in New York and other cities, including the 1888 Academy performances starring Barrymore as the handsome and earnest Colonel Prescott. [back]

3. Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901) was the twenty-third U.S. president and grandson of the ninth president, William Henry Harrison. Harrison was the Republican nominee who defeated Democratic incumbent Grover Cleveland in 1888. [back]

4. William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878) was famous both as a poet and as the editor-in-chief of the New York Evening Post from 1828 to 1878. [back]

5. Scovel is referencing Bryant's poem "The May Sun Sheds An Amber Light." [back]

6. William J. "Billy" Thompson (1848–1911), known as "The Duke of Gloucester" and "The Statesman," was a friend of Whitman's who operated a hotel, race track, and amusement park on the beach overlooking the Delaware River at Gloucester, New Jersey. His shad and champagne dinners for Whitman were something of a tradition. See William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (London: Alexander Gardner, 1896), 15–16. [back]


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