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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 2 August 1848

Eds. Crescent

Among the long resident literary and professional men here, no ordinary event of the last few months has caused more sympathy and talk than the death, last Monday, of Mr. Simpson,1 of the Park theatre. Going by the Park, early that same morning, I stopped a few minutes to look at the workmen, busy in their plans of demolition and reconstruction. The lower front of the theatre, with the steps and entrance, are all taken down; and the inner regions thoroughly disembowelled, without saving an item! It looks indeed like a day of revolution to see such work as this; for the Park theatre of the last thirty years had become so associated in the minds of New Yorkers with "the stability of our institutions," as to make an attack upon it something beyond even the most daring minds. There on those old boards we saw Mrs. Knight2 in her palmy days, before her voice had settled upon the one-tone, than which she now sings nothing else. To Richings's3 Caliban, how sweetly she could then play and sing the gentle Ariel. And poor Fisher,4 with his Trinculo quips?, shall we ever forget him? And Mrs. Chapman,5 too, (otherwise Mrs. Richardson,) she too was in the spring of health and vigor then: all the dry goods clerks in the pit were in love with her. She was famous in sentimental young ladies—one or two of whom are in every old English comedy. Then Mrs. Wheatly;6 O, Lord! to see her in Miss Lucretia MacTub​ , and in the Old Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, and in Mrs. Duberly—ah, those were treats indeed! Her daughters, Emma and Julia,7 used to dance in a way that (bless our innocent souls!) we all thought, then, quite divine. And young Wheatley,8 we remember well—so straight that he bent over backwards. Mrs. Vernon,9 too—and Placide10— than whom better players (they gave the intellectual as well as the physical to comedy,) never trod the boards.

On the Park stage we first saw Fanny Kemble.11 Hers was playing. She "did" Marianne, in The Wife; and many a man, who had visited the theatre for years, then saw playing for the first time. We well remember the impression caused on the audience, (as full and fashionable a one as New York could boast,) when the heroine of the piece came sailing up the stage on the startling announcement of "the Duchess," in the midst of her husband's camp, while his treacherous brother was pouring out a tale of falsehood and cruelty. Miss Kemble was about the first of the long train of English stars and staresses that have since poured in among us with uninterrupted succession. It is somewhat singular, that with hardly an exception, the principal personages (literary as well as dramatic) who have been thus lionized, returned Yankee fallibility with slander and flippant insolence.

In still later times, the Park has introduced more modern matters. Specially worthy of mention is the way it brought out King John, three years ago, with Mrs. and Mr. Charles Kean.12 Beyond question this was the most perfect in its appointments and general getting up, of any piece that has yet been produced upon the American stage.

But the Park has passed into new hands, and Mr. Simpson is dead! So the world "marvels" along. And perhaps it is better to. The old must give place to the new; those who have sat long at table must sooner or later yield to fresh-comers—if gracefully and cheerfully, the better for both parties. The advent among us of a whilom New Yorker, but more lately a resident of New Orleans, Mr. Jacob Barker,13 has given rise to several newspaper paragraphs, all of them good natured. Mr. Barker is a fine specimen of the enterprising New Englander—always ready, whether successful or "down" for a speculation and for business enterprize.

The Hermann is not in yet, but it is not improbable she may be before sundown. The city wears a pleasant appearance—partly attributable to the delightful weather we have had for the last two days.



  • 1. Edmund Simpson (1784–1848) was an English actor and theatre manager. He worked alongside Stephen Price (1782–1840) who leased the Park Theatre in New York, and, after Price's death, Simpson became the sole manager. Simpson held the position until 1848, when he retired; he died later that year. [back]
  • 2. Mrs. Edward Knight (Mary Ann Povey; 1804–1861), a native of Birmingham, England, was a vocalist and an actress. When she arrived in the United States, she became affiliated with the Park Theatre, and she performed in numerous comic operas. [back]
  • 3. Whitman may be referring to the actor Peter Richings (1797–1871), who would later form The Richings Opera Company and tour the United States. [back]
  • 4. John Fisher (1798–1847) was a comedian and actor who was a favorite among audiences at the Park Theatre in the 1830s and 1840s ("The Late Mr. John Fisher, The Comedian," Theatrical Times [August 14, 1847], 251.) [back]
  • 5. Elizabeth Jefferson Chapman was an American actress and singer who performed at the Park Theatre. She married the actor Samuel Chapman (b. 1799), and after his death she married Augustus Richardson of Baltimore. Thus, she acted under the names of Mrs. Chapman and, later, Mrs. Richardson. She also managed a theatre for a short time in Alabama (Jane Kathleen Curry, Nineteenth-Century American Women Theatre Managers [Westport: Greenwood Press], 1994: 23–24). [back]
  • 6. Born in Nova Scotia, Sarah Ross Wheatley (1790–1872) began acting on the Park Theatre stage in 1805. She was notable for her portrayals of elderly women, especially her role as Juliet's nurse in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Sarah married the actor and Irish entertainer Frederick Wheatley (1779?–1836). She and her husband were the parents of the actress Emma Wheatley (1822–1854), the opera singer Julia Wheatley (1819–1904), and the actor and theatre manager William Wheatley (1816–1876). [back]
  • 7. Emma Wheatley (1822–1854) began dancing on the Park Theatre stage as a child, and became a prominent actress. Her older sister Julia Wheatley (1819–1904) also danced and performed as an actress. But Julia was best known for her singing talents, and, as a teenager, she became the contra-alto of an Italian Opera company performing in New York (Joseph N. Ireland, Records of the New York Stage from 1750 to 1860 [New York: T. H. Morrell, 1866], 1:457–458). [back]
  • 8. William Wheatley (1816–1876) was a popular and successful American stage actor, and a favorite of audiences in Baltimore and Philadelphia. He started performing at the Park Theatre as a child, acted in numerous plays, and, later, leased and managed Niblo's Garden in New York. [back]
  • 9. Whitman is likely referring to Jane Marchant Fisher Vernon (1792–1869), a popular actress, who performed on the stage at the Park Theatre for many years. [back]
  • 10. Henry Placide (1799–1870) was born in South Carolina, and he later performed on stage at the Park Theatre as a comedian and a singer. [back]
  • 11. Fanny Kemble (1809–1893) was the eldest daughter of Charles Kemble (1775–1854), an actor, and his wife, Maria Theresa Kemble (1774–1838), who was an actress, singer, dancer, and playwright. Fanny was born in London and educated in Paris, and she went on to become an actress, performing in the United States and in Britain. She acted in many principal women's roles of the era, including playing Juliet in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Beatrice in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. [back]
  • 12. Charles Kean (1811–1868) was an English actor and the son of the English Shakespearean stage actor Edmund Kean (1787–1833) and Mary Chambers, also a leading actress. Charles Kean married the actress Ellen Tree Kean (1805–1880), and the couple acted in productions together in London and made a visit to the United States in the mid-1840s. Charles was known for a series of Shakespearean revivals that aimed for authenticity, including historically accurate costuming. [back]
  • 13. Jacob Barker (1779–1871) was a banker and a legislator. He was one of the founders of Exchange Bank on Wall St. and a director of the Life and Fire Insurance Company of New York. In 1814, he was among those who helped save the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington from the burning White House under the order of then First Lady Dolley Madison (1768–1849), wife of James Madison (1751–1836), the fourth president of the United States ("Barker, Jacob," Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607–1896 [Chicago: The A. N. Marquis Company, 1963], 40). [back]
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