Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: James M. Scovel to Walt Whitman, 7 May 1885

Date: May 7, 1885

Whitman Archive ID: loc.05890

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: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Kyle Barton, and Nicole Gray

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Special Agent Treasury Department,

Camden NJ
1885. 10 am1

My Dear Walt.

I send you a nice letter from O'Connor2

His rabies (nor is it without foundation) against McCaulay, still continues as you see3

O'Connor is a "brick"—

I trust you are moving on the enemies work, in regard to the Springfield Repub article.4 They seem so genuinely anxious to get it I wd like to send it off this week. If you come around 7 or 8 pm—this evening there is enough "four mark" for two bouncing good punches

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. Whitman crossed out this letter and wrote a series of notes on the back. [back]

2. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. O'Connor had attacked British essayist Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–1859), calling him a "brilliant knave," for his "calumny" about Francis Bacon, one of O'Connor's idols. Macaulay's controversial essay about Bacon was published in the Edinburgh Review in 1837. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, July 1, 1889[back]

4. James Matlack Scovel's "Walt Whitman" finally appeared in the Springfield Republican on June 16, 1885—partially authored by Whitman himself and after months of negotiating between Scovel and the poet. [back]


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