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Wilkins, Edward (Ned) G. P. (1829-1861)

Journalist, Playwright

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).