George H. Boker papers
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
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Overview and metadata sections
George Henry Boker (1823-1890) was an American poet, playwright, and diplomat whose patriotic writings supported the Union government during the American Civil War. The son of an influential banker, Boker was educated in private schools and Princeton University, from which he graduated in 1842. He was educated as a lawyer, but focused his energy on writing. His plays include Calaynos, The Betrothal, Anne Boleyn, Leor de Guzman and Francesca Da Rimini.
Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Boker became involved in the foundation (in November 1862) and support of the Union League of Philadelphia, an organization designed to "support President Lincoln, the administration, and the Union," (PA Civil War 150). He also wrote poetry that supported the Union and was patriotic in nature. In 1864, Poems of War was published. He served as secretary of the Union League from 1863 to 1871.
His support of the Union appears to have been recognized as President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Boker as an ambassador to Turkey in 1871 and Russia in 1875. Following the presidential election of 1876, Boker was recalled from diplomatic service and he returned to Philadelphia. From 1879 to 1884, Boker served as president of the Union League. Towards the end of his life, his play Francesca Da Rimini "found a resurgence on the Philadelphia stage demanding a reprinting," (Mechanics National Bank). After Boker's death in 1890 in Philadelphia, Sequence of Profane Love, a collection of sonnets, was published posthumously.
The George H. Boker papers contains letters to and from Boker; a small portion of financial records, largely relating to the publishing of Boker's writings; and poems, plays and other writings by Boker. The first two portions of the collection include letters to and letters from Boker. In both cases, the letters are arranged in alphabetical order. The letters are generally personal and friendly in nature and most discuss Boker's writings; however, some letters are more politics-driven, in particular those by Simon Cameron, Michael M. Fottion, John Jay, the Society of the Army of the Republic, the United States Department of State, and the United States Legations for Russia and Turkey. Letters from Boker are also largely about his (and others') writings, but there is a notable letter to Edmund C. Stedman about the death of his friend Bayard Taylor.
Financial records are almost entirely receipts and notes relating to the publishing of Boker's writings although there are a few relating to Boker's salary when he worked as a diplomat.
Boker's writings in this collection consist of poems and plays and are arranged in chronological order. Many of the poems were written by George H. Boker in response to the United States Civil War. The poems were published either in newspapers or as broadsides and date from 1854 to 1868. While the majority of the poems in this collection are patriotic war poems, there are a few that do not relate to the war; including one referring to Queen Victoria reviewing the Baltic Fleet in 1854 and one written for the wedding day of Boker's friend Bayard Taylor (who married Maria Hansen in October 1857).
In addition to his own war poems, the collection includes the poems of others who were inspired or enraged by Boker's "Tardy George," (probably referring to George McClellan despite Major General George Sykes earning the nickname "Tardy George"). One or two of the poems included (for example, "In the Wilderness," and "Hymn for the Eighty-Seventh Anniversary of American Independence") were published in Boker's Poems of the War, but the majority were not part of that work.
Of note is "An Old Story," a selection of 87 sonnets compiled into a scrapbook by Angelina King Hicks, who may have been the inspiration for the poems. According to Sculley Bradley, "these sonnets are unmistakably personal in tone, and their reality and depth of feeling preclude the possibility of considering them either as poetic exercises or flights of fancy" (Sculley, page 259). Another volume of note, The Book of the Dead, includes a series of poems Boker wrote to defend his father's reputation following his death and a lawsuit by the Girard Bank.
This collection documents Boker's literary life more than his political and diplomatic life, although his politics are certainly reflected strongly in his writings.
Bradley, Sculley, "George Henry Boker and Angie Hicks," American Literature, Volume III, Number 3, November 1936 (Box 2, Folder 1).
The letters to Boker, gift of Sculley Bradley, 1972; Manuscripts of Book of the Dead, Glaucus, Nydia, The Queen Must Dance, and A Welcome to Garibaldi, gift of E. Sculley Bradley, 1946-1947; Letters to Boker, formerly Dewey 812 B633L; and Civil War broadsides, formerly Dewey 811 B634W.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Holly Mengel
- Finding Aid Date
- 2015 April 20
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.