Lot 356
  • 356

Booth, John Wilkes

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Four-line verse in the autograph of John Wilkes Booth, signed "J. Wilkes Booth", written on an envelope. [Washington D. C.,] 5 March 1865

The envelope (3 3/8 x 6 1/16 in.; 86 x 154 mm.), with inscriptions in three other hands, one edge taped on to matting paper.


Oliver R. Barrett (his sale, Parke-Bernet, 20 February 1952, lot 630)

Catalogue Note

The four-line verse by Booth reads: "Now in this hour that we part,/ I will ask to be forgotten never/ But, in thy pure and guileless heart,/ Consider me thy friend dear Eva." This appears on the verso of the envelope on the inside of the flap.

Sometime in late 1864 or early 1865, Booth entered into a serious romance with Lucy Lambert Hale, daughter of John Parker Hale, New Hampshire's abolitionist former senator. By March, Booth was secretly engaged to Lucy Hale. On March 4th Booth attended Lincoln's second inauguration as the invited guest of Lucy.

Beneath Booth's verse is inscribed, in another hand  "For of all sad words from tongue or pen/ the saddest are these - it might have been." a quotation from John Greenleaf Whittier's Maud Muller, along with date "March 5, 1865 In John's room" which would be, if John Booth was here referred to, at the National Hotel in Washington D.C.

It is tempting to consider this envelope as bringing us into one of the periodic meetings of the conspirators planning the kidnap or assassination of the President, gathered in Booth's hotel room sharing a bottle of whiskey, bemoaning the fate of the Confederacy, and here expressing a regretful sentiment. Booth is known to have confided to his actor friend Samuel Knapp Chester, "What an excellent chance I had to kill the President, if I had wished, on inauguration day!" (Chester testified at the Conspiracy Trial that this conversation took place at a table at the House of Lords saloon in New York City.)

On the recto, in a third hand, are two lines of docketing "Jno Conness MSS" perhaps referring to Senator John Conness of California (1821-1909). Beneath, is a three-line inscription from Whittier's poem Remembrance: "Touched by change have all things been/ Yet I think of thee as when/ We had speech of lip and pen." Beneath this, in the same hand is the sentiment "The above, though quoted, are the real sentiments of your friend, who trusts that the acquaintance and friendship formed will never be forgotten by either, " and signed "Jno P. M. W."