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Walt Whitman to James Matlack Scovel, [7 April 1885?]

My friend J. M. S. | (for so I would have it)

Yours just rec'd. Come around right away & let me mix you a good generous sour mash to remove such baseless & unworthy constructions from your thought—Affectionate respects to Mrs. S.

Walt Whitman

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. Apparently this letter was written on Tuesday, April 7, 1885, since Scovel on that date informed Whitman that his note had arrived too late in the evening for the "promised sour mash." At this time Scovel was preparing an article about Whitman for the Springfield Republican, and the poet was insisting upon alterations. On April 7 Scovel suggested that "to start right again I think you had better send me my MSS—and let me do as I d—n please with it." On May 7 and again on May 12 Scovel asked Whitman to return the manuscript. The article, simply called "Walt Whitman," was sent to the newspaper on May 22 (Whitman's Commonplace Book) and appeared on June 15; it detailed Whitman's financial returns from the sale of articles and books with information obviously supplied by the poet. [back]
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