George Henry Boker was born on October 6, 1823, the son of well-to-do Philadelphia banker Charles Boker. In 1842, he graduated from the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University), where he was one of the founders of the Nassau Monthly. Two years later, after marrying Washingtonian Julia Mandeville Riggs (also the child of a banker), he abandoned his plans to become a lawyer and took up writing. His first book of verse, published in 1848, was considered promising, but a blank verse tragedy set in medieval Spain and published the same year made a much bigger splash. After the play was staged successfully (although without Boker's permission) in London, a production was mounted at the Walnut Street Theatre in his home town of Philadelphia.
Although Boker is not remembered today as a major American playwright, his skillfully written historical dramas regularly drew respectable audiences in Philadelphia, New York, and abroad. His poetic output and his plays were eventually collected and published in the two-volume Plays and Poems (which was reprinted five times), but he never received the recognition he craved (or deserved) for his literary works.
Although Boker did not take up arms during the War Between the States, he served his country in other ways, both by writing patriotic poems and by founding the Union Club (eventually the Union League of Philadelphia) in November of 1862. The goals of the organization (the first of its kind in the country) were to raise money for the war effort and to encourage enlistments in the army. Boker served as its secretary until he was appointed minister to Turkey in November of 1871.
A natural-born diplomat, Boker's tact and dignity helped reestablish diplomatic relations with the Ottoman government and proved instrumental in the negotiation of several important treaties. (As an interesting sidelight, Boker also assisted archaeologists Heinrich Schliemann and Frank Calvert in their efforts to obtain from the Turkish government the permits necessary for excavations in the ancient city of Troy.)
Boker soon tired of Ottoman politics and gladly accepted a new appointment as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Russia. Despite his great success in St. Petersburg and his personal friendship with the czar, Boker was recalled when the administration in Washington changed in 1878. Philadelphia welcomed him home with open arms, bestowing on him the presidency of his beloved Union League and a seat on the Fairmont Park Commission. He remained active in the beautification of Philadelphia's city parks until his death in 1890 from heart disease.
"Ad Poetas" || "Before Vicksburg" || "The Black Regiment" || "The Crossing at Fredericksburg" || "Dirge for a Soldier" || "Dragoon's Song" || "March Along" || "Tardy George"
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Last modified 02-July-2002