Remembered as "a man of brilliant talent and singular charm," Edward Wilkins' career included the roles of editorial writer, musical and dramatic critic, and playwright. He was raised in Boston where he began his journalism career. When Wilkins began writing for the New York Herald he first met Pfaff's theater critic and later biographer William Winter who saw his career develop when Wilkins attracted the attention of the editor, James Gordon Bennett, through an excellent piece about the Crystal Palace exhibit; Wilkins then advanced rapidly through the ranks of the paper (Winter 84).
In addition to his work at the Herald, Wilkins quickly became indispensable to Henry Clapp, working as his chief assistant on the Saturday Press where, under the pen name "Personne," he wrote "a series of free dramatic and musical criticisms that were much too independent for the Herald" ("Obituary: Henry Clapp" 7). Ned Wilkins took over writing the column "Dramatic Feuilleton" for the Saturday Press from Fitz-James O'Brien, which featured drama criticism. One of Walt Whitman's early defenders, Wilkins was described by Whitman as "courageous: in an out and out way very friendly to Leaves of Grass: free spoken - always willing to let it be known what he thought: in fact, was what we nowadays call a dude: kid-gloved, scrupulous - oh! squeamish! - about his linen, about his tie - all that" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, 117).
Wilkins' importance to the crowd at Pfaff's is evidenced by his centrality within Henry Clapp's obituary in the New York Times where he is identified as one of the "organizers" of the "much wondered at, admired, and sought after" group of Bohemians (7). He appears to have been on friendly terms with a number of the chief frequenters at Pfaff's; Whitman mentions having encountered Wilkins at Ada Clare's home (E. Holloway 109). Wilkins also shared the dramatic interests of many of the crowd at Pfaff's; he moved in theatrical circles and is remembered as the playwright of Young New York (1856) and My Wife's Mirror (1856). In addition to his work with Clapp and his dramatic productions, Wilkins also campaigned for the integrity of art; he "launched a campaign to expose what he called 'fillibusters' -- plagiarized scripts which kept being passed off as originals" (T. Miller 57).
Wilkins, like many of the Pfaffians, died young; he was the first of the Bohemians to pass away ("Obituary" 7). Arnold recalls the shock of Wilkins' passing which was compounded by the tragedy of his unfulfilled promise; Arnold contends that Wilkins died just as his skills were "ripening." ("O'Brien's" liii). Junius Borown echoed this sentiment saying that Wilkins "promised far better things than he had ever performed, he died, leaving no other record than the file of newspapers -- the silent history of countless unremembered men of genius" (J. Browne 153). George Arnold stipulates that the "best part of his strictly literary reputation" rests on his clever feuilletons, and William Winter concurs that Wilkins' most significant contributions consist of his dramatic work; he ranks the influence of that work highly, naming Wilkins as one of the first American journalists to introduce the French custom of the feuilleton ("O'Brien's" li). Winter further elaborated on the legacy of Wilkins contending that "[m]any writers of this period are,--without being aware of it,--following an example that was set by him; writing about the stage and society in a facetious, satirical vein, striving to lighten heavy or barren themes with playful banter, and to gild the dreariness of criticism with the glitter of wit. Wilkins not only attempted that task, he accomplished it. His writings are buried in the files of 'The Herald,' 'The Saturday Press' and 'The Leader,' and they are buried forever (Winter 87-88).
Whitman identifies Ned Wilkins as one of the regulars at Pfaff's and calls him a "bright man." Whitman also refers to Wilkins' work as the dramatic critic of the Herald.[pages:10]
Ada Clare, Ned Wilkins, Henry Clapp, and others are mentioned by Allen as "[rendering] a service to the history of American literature by giving Whitman companionship and encouragement when he greatly needed them" (231).[pages:231,494]
Anna Maria gives "Personne" fair warning about her response to what he might write about her in the future.[pages:2]
Arnold mentions the loss of Wilkins along with O'Brien.
In his 1865 tribute to Fitz-James O'Brien ("O'Brien's Personal Characteristics"), later anthologized by William Winter, George Arnold also mourns the loss of Wilkins.[pages:xlvi-xlvii]
Browne refers to him as "Ned." Wilkins was a member of the staff of the Herald and a "prominent member of the fraternity." Browne states that he was "one of the few attaches of that journal [Saturday Press] who have ever gained much individual reputation" (153).
According to Browne's description: "He was a pungent and strong writer, at the same time correct and graceful, and had the requisite amount of dogmatism and self-consciousness to render him acceptable to his guild and satisfactory to himself. When he promised far better things than he had ever performed, he died, leaving no other record than the file of newspapers -- the silent history of countless unremembered men of genius" (153).[pages:153]
Umos announces the Washington theater "with compliments to Personne" (2).[pages:2]
Clare refers to Wilkins by his pseudonym, "Personne."
Clare defends her right to publish her opinions in her column and claims that they "will sometimes be diametrically opposed to those of the Editor, and Personne." She claims that neither man will take this personally or suffer any ill consequences from their difference of opinion (2).[pages:2]
He is listed as one of the "associates" of the Saturday Press. Derby notes that he is deceased at the time of his writing (232).[pages:232]
Figaro writes that "Dear old Ned Wilkins used to say that the only kind of entertainment he liked to write about was the Menagerie, because the animals were not jealous of each other" (4).[pages:4]
Figaro claims he would "appeal to dear Ned Wilkins if he were living" to confirm his claim that audiences used to enjoy hearing Bateman sing (105).[pages:105]
Wilkins is mentioned as one of "the best know writers who frequented that cozy corner [Pfaff's]." He is also referred to as the dramatic editor of the New York Leader and the author of articles signed "Personne."[pages:9]
Referred to as "Count Wilkinski, Minister Plenipotentiary from the Court of Empress Anna Maria."
Wilkins is mentioned as one of the Bohemians at Pfaff's "gossiped" about by Rufus B. Wilson in a "reminiscent letter to the Galveston News."
The article mentions that he, Ada Clare, "and the bucket of beer which Clapp used to carry into the office every afternoon" assisted Winter with the dramatic criticisms for the Saturday Press.[pages:479]
Gunn journals about Wilkin's death and reflects on his life, "Wilkins of the "Herald," who died yesterday, was buried or rather had funeral service performed over his body today. I met him once, at Clapp's, when O'Brien toadied him a good deal, and I was familiar enough with his writings and intimates. His "Saturday Press" and "Leader" feulletons (as they were affectedly entitled) were very shrewd and clever, though in palpable imitation of the French mocking spirit; his "Herald" editorials as unscrupulous and often as base as anything in that abominable paper; pimping and pandering to any feeling that might be supposed agreeable to the worst prejudices of American character. He had once been connected with the "Life in Boston," a dirty flesh paper. I should not suppose him to have been a man of reading or education, or particular belief in anything; though he had an unquestionably ready pen, and perhaps more talent that the average of his class. They speak of him as a good enough fellow; say he loved petit soupers, breakfast and the like and accelerated his death by injudicious indulgence in them, as in disobeying his doctor by using chloroform. He went to pfaffs occasionally, being received as rather a great gun amongst Bohemians; though he was hardly a frequenter of their haunt. His plays, when original, were slangy trash; "Young New York" would never have been acted twice to other than the easily-satisfied audiences of this metropolis. A good many of his intimates and acquaintances showed at his funeral today, as Seymour, Clapp, Stuart, George Arnold, "Ada Clare" and others. The last did melodrama over his coffin, throwing her arms up and embracing it. The men drank brandy and water afterwards" (157-160).[pages:157-160]
Hahn says he was a regular.[pages:20]
This text identifies the following pseudonym: Personne (75).[pages:75]
Whitman mentions in a notebook having run into Wilkins at Ada Clare's home.[pages:109]
Lalor cites Charlton's account that during the fight between Arnold and Whitman, "Ned Wilkins lost the power of his lungs for five minutes after tugging at the brawny arm of Walt" (135).[pages:135]
Lalor mentions that he was called Ned.[pages:43]
"Walt Whitman fondly remembered Edward "Ned" G.P. Wilkins as [...] 'noble, slim, sickish, dressy, Frenchy--consumptive in look, in gait, weak-voiced...'" But, according to Whitman, he was also "'a pungent and strong writer'" (59-60).[pages:19, 53, 59, 60, 84]
Edward is listed as a member of Clapp's "cabinet" in the "Kingdom of Bohemia" and at the Saturday Press. He is described as having "taken the road to dusty death."[pages:192]
Edward was also known as "Ned."[pages:236]
In 1865 George Arnold described Wilkins as follows: "His complexion was light; his eyes were intensely blue and expressive, sometimes twinkling with plenitude of merriment. His features were sharply cut, and thorough-bred in mould; his skin, clear and delicate; his hair, which he parted nearly in the middle of a high forehead, was lustrous and wavy; and his mouth was partly concealed by a well-grown and becoming mustache, golden brown in color, and remarkably fine in texture. His hands were long, thin, and delicate as a girl's. His dress was always unexceptionable no matter what the occasion or the season, though his preference was generally for loose, rough, easy styles, which became him wonderfully" (44).
Wilkins "launched a campaign to expose what he called 'fillibusters' -- plagiarized scripts which kept being passed off as originals" (57). In the February 12, 1857, edition of the Saturday Press he chastised Laura Keene for "presenting three such pieces in one month" (57). He concluded by saying: "Filibuster as much as you please, ladies and gentlemen; success is nothing but success. But full houses will not buy literary reputation for borrowed plumes" (58).
After Wilkins' death, George Arnold noted that "His position was just assured and ripening. He was just coming into a handsome income from his manifold labors . . . Everything smiled upon him, and fortune was turning her wheel in his behalf, when--poof!--the candle is out!" (68).[pages:1, 16, 29, 36, 37, 38, 42-69, 70, 101, 103, 104, 114, 128, 131, 138]
This column discusses the suppression of "Personne" (2).[pages:2]
O'Brien mentions that Wilkins is working on a new dramatic piece (3).[pages:3]
In his 1865 tribute to Fitz-James O'Brien ("O'Brien's Personal Characteristics"), later anthologized by William Winter, George Arnold also mourns the loss of Wilkins.[pages:xlvi-xlvii]
The "Obituary" names him as Clapp's chief assistant at the Saturday Press. Wilkins wrote "a series of free dramatic and musical criticisms that were much too independent for the Herald under the pen name "Personne" in the Saturday Press. Wilkins was the dramatic critic for the Herald.
Clapp and Wilkins are cited as the "organizers" of the "much wondered at, admired, and sought after" group of Bohemians.
Wilkins is mentioned as being the first Bohemian that passed away. He is described as "a very quiet Yankee, but a well informed and trusty wit."[pages:7]
The first performance of his My Wife's Mirror occured for Laura Keene's benefit on May 10, 1856. His Young New York played at Laura Keene's new theater after the opening production of As You Like It This show began Nov.24, 1856 and ran until Dec.17. Wilkins held a benefit Feb.21, 1857, where My Wife's Mirror and Young New York both played.[pages:455, 541,543]
His play, The Siam Light Guard, was performed Sept. 28, 1857, at Keene's. Wilkins also adapted Henriette. The adaptation of the play was originally billed as "translated from the French, and adapted to the American stage by a gentleman of this city" (308).
Odell also mentions that Wilkins was the dramatic critic for the Herald.[pages:32,308,465]
"Ned" Wilkins is mentioned as one of the "happy, careless children of Bohemia" who attended the "carnivals in Pfaff's cellar" (5).[pages:5]
Wilkins wrote for the Saturday Press as "Personne" (24). After the Civil War, Wilkins was one of many who did not return to Pfaff's; he died of pneumonia (32). One of Clapp's memories of the high point of Pfaff's was "when Wilkins, like the maiden in the fairy tale, opened his lips and spake diamonds" (46).
Parry writes that Wilkins was the "pioneer" American "to die of stricken lungs in a damp garret while heavy rain and wind beat upon the roof." Parry continues: "He was the dandy of the crowd, and in this respect, too, he was a pioneer. For what American group of Bohemians since the Pfaff days has ever lacked its neatly dressed and well-mannered few to contrast with the wild hair, ways, and rags of the rest? Wilkins was the dramatic critic of the Herald and wrote one-act comedies. At one time, he was the pet of James Gordon Bennett, at another of Mme. Cora de Wilhorst, the opera singer. It was she who groomed him in his dress and manners and saw to it that the Pfaff crowd did not spoil him too much. But when, in the Spring of 1861, Ned fell ill none of his grand friends came to comfort him. It remained for the lowly Pfaffians to read Carlyle and the Bible to him in his closing hours" (50).[pages:24,32,46,50,61]
As one of "the men at the Club," Personne lodges his personal objections to the Smith that Fanny Morant has married (3).[pages:3]
The letter to the Editor of the Saturday Press from Gayler discusses Personne's remarks about Many a Slip 'Twixt the Cup and the Lip (2).[pages:2]
Personne gives over space to correspondence written to him (3).[pages:3]
The Feuilleton consists of letters to the Editor about Personne's writing in the Saturday Press (2).[pages:2]
Personne mentions that the disagreement between him and the critics at the Daily News and Spirit of the Times is still going on (3).[pages:3]
Personne notes that the "dull week" in the theaters was more the type of week that Anna Maria enjoys than he does. Personne also announces that his "new five-act tragedy, Anna Maria, is nearly ready for the stage" (3).[pages:3]
Personne writes that he got a letter from his friend Mr. Jack Pouce, "who was believed at one time to have died of too much Personne." Pouce's letter announces the arrival of the Cantidores; Professor Nicholas and his troupe" (3).[pages:3]
Personne discusses his omission by Mr. Barney Williams. Personne also mentions the debate over his views and the quality of his writing currently going on between the "critics" at the Daily News and Spirit of the Times (2).[pages:2]
Personne is mentioned in a Chicago opera critic's discussion of the "Dramatic Feuilletons" on the Saturday Press (2).[pages:2]
Quelqu'un compares himself to the "clever and witty" Personne, "who will weave the most delicate and graceful web in the world out of nothing" when discussing his difficulty writing about the dramatic world (3).[pages:3]
Mentions that the Courrier des Etats Unis has apologized to Personne for mistranslating his writing (3).[pages:3]
Quelqu'un claims that Personne has figured out the necessity of "appealing to the multitude of fools" and cites his most recent Feuilleton in the Leader as evidence, as Personne was called on to explain his remarks about Mrs. Wood (3).[pages:3]
Quelqu'un reprints some remarks from a French writer that claim Personne must be French as well as questioning his gender. Quelqu'un also refuses to explain why Personne is not writing the Feuilleton this week. Quelqu'un contrasts Personne's approach to the theater to his own (3).[pages:3]
Quelqu'un discusses Personne's decision to abandon the feuilleton because there was nothing interesting to write about (2).[pages:2]
Quelqu'un addresses his column to Personne, who has left him with the responsibility of writing the Feuilleton. Quelqu'un writes that he checked the Herald for the "eclectic Wilkins's" review of Brougham's new piece at the Bowery (2).[pages:2]
Wilkins is listed as a regular in the bohemian circle at Pfaff's.[pages:142]
As one of the "Pfaffian regulars" who did "serious writing along with journalism", Wilkins wrote criticism (114).[pages:114]
Wilkins is listed as one of Whitman's "boys" and one of Whitman's early defenders. Wilkins is described by Whitman as "noble, slim, sickish, dressy, Frenchy - consumptive in look, in gait: weak-voiced: oh! I think the weakest voice I ever knew in a man. But Ned was courageous: in an out and out way very friendly to Leaves of Grass: free spoken - always willing to let it be known what he thought: in fact, was what we nowadays call a dude: kid-gloved, scrupulous - oh! squeamish! - about his linen, about his tie - all that." Whitman also claims that "I never heard Ned say a foolish thing."[pages:147-148]
The author mentions the "delicate dramatic humors of 'Personne' as one of the features of the Saturday Press that "make up a paper of rare excellence."
Whitman records in his journal on August 16 that he met with Charles Pfaff for an excellent breakfast at his restaurant on 24th Street. "Our host himself, an old friend of mine, quickly appear'd on the scene to welcome me and bring up the news, and, first opening a big fat bottle of the best wine in the cellar, talked about ante-bellum times, '59 and '60, and the jovial suppers at his then Broadway place, near Bleecker street. Ah, the friends and names and frequenters, those times, that place. Most are dead—Ada Clare, Wilkins, Daisy Sheppard, O'Brien, Henry Clapp, Stanley, Mullin, Wood, Brougham, Arnold—all gone. And there Pfaff and I, sitting opposite each other at the little table, gave rememberance to them in a style they would have themselves fully confirm'd, namely, big, brimming, fill'd-up champagne-glasses, drain'd in abstracted silence, very leisurely, to the last drop."[pages:5:21]
Winter describes him as "a man of brilliant talent and singular charm." Winter became associated with Wilkins, a journalist, and the group of writers he was associated with in 1859-1860. Wilkins was raised in Boston and began his journalism career there. Winter met Wilkins when he was associated with "The New York Herald." Wilkins attracted the editor's, James Gordon Bennett, attention through an excellent piece about the Crystal Palace exhibit and Wilkins was rapidly advanced through the ranks of the paper. Wilkins was an editorial writer, musical, and dramatic critic (84).
According to Winter, "He was a fluent penman, direct, explicit, humorous, ready with a reason for every opinion that he pronounced, and fortunate in the possession of an equable temper and a refined taste." Wilkins' favorite author was Montaigne, which he could read in both French and English, and he also enjoyed Whittier's later poems; Winter highlights this because "every man is perceived, at least in part, by knowledge of his loves in literature as well as by knowledge of his friends" (84-84).
Winter describes Wilkins, noting that he was tall, but stooped, had a "delicate constitution," and was slightly deaf; Winter states that this condition could selectively worsen when Wilkins did not want to hear something or someone. Wilkins was also "tactful" and "elegant," which Winter claims, "For the discreet management of his talents and professional opportunities, as well as for the polish of his manners, he was somewhat indebted to the friendship of Mme. Cora de Wilhorst, a popular vocalist of the period...therein being fortunate; because no influence can be more auspicious for any clever youth than that of an accomplished woman, acquainted with the ways of the social world and sincerly desirious of promoting his welfare" (85-86).
Winter states that Wilkins lived in a house at the corner of Amity and Greene streets, which is still standing at the time of Winter's writing. Wilkins died at his home in the spring of 1861, from pneumonia. Winter remembers visiting him during his last week and reading to him during the night. Wilkins was buried in Chelsea Mass. (86-87).
Winter discusses Wilkins' relevance to his audience: "Is there any reason why readers of the present day should care to hear of him? I think there is. He was the first among American journalists to introduce into our press the French custom of the Dramatic Feuilleton. Many writers of this period are,--without being aware of it,--following an example that was set by him; writing about the stage and society in a facetious, satirical vein, striving to lighten heavy or barren themes with playful banter, and to gild the dreariness of criticism with the glitter of wit. Wilkins not only attempted that task, he accomplished it. His writings are buried in the files of 'The Herald,' 'The Saturday Press' and 'The Leader,' and they are buried forever. His comedy called 'Young New York' survives." The play was produced and acted in by Laura Keene, along with her most skilled comedians at the time (1856). Winter also notes that Wilkins not only wrote plays but was responsible for bringing the first version of Sardou's comedy "Les Pattes des Mouche" to America, at Wallack's, under the name of "Henriette" (the play is now known as "A Scrap of Paper") (87-88).
Wilkins "did not habitually frequent Pfaff's Cave, but he often came there, and his presence afforded a signal contrast with that of some of our companions" (88).
Winter states that the most "abrupt" contrast between personalities "was afforded by the restful, indolent, elegant demeanor of Wilkins, and the vital, breezy, exuberant, demeanor of Fitz-James O'Brien,--the most representative Bohemian writer whom it has been my fortune to know" (95).[pages:84(ill.), 84-88,95]
Whitman calls him a "bright man" in an interview for The Brooklyn Daily Eagle July 11, 1886, in which he describes his nights at Pfaffs.
Wilkins was also associated with The Saturday Press.[pages:125, 168]
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015