"John Wilkes Booth: A Sister's Memoir" by Asia Booth Clarke
This book (which really has no title -- the editor, Terry Alford, supplied one) is the best guide to the inner life of John Wilkes Booth, yet was only published in 1938! Asia's family discovered the manuscript in 1888, realized a sympathetic portrayal of John Wilkes was too unsavory for America, and waited 50 years.
I love Asia's name, chosen by her occasionally mad, occasionally alcoholic father, the famous actor Junius Brutus Booth, Sr. (who was inclined to name her "Ayesha, in recollection of one of Mahomet's wives"). Junius died on a Mississippi River steamboat in November of 1852. Asia and John Wilkes lived on a farm in rural Maryland, with their helpless mother. They had slaves, but little money.
What a delightful companion young John was! How adoring a brother! If only he had stayed a child forever! This is the theme of the memoir. (Of course, John Wilkes tried to stay childish forever, by becoming an actor, but mysteriously lost interest at the top of his career, quitting to speculate in oil wells.) Here is a section of the work, chosen at random:
... I looked out from the bushes to see Wilkes returning on Cola. He came up rapidly then and dismounted, while the dogs yelped and the cats rubbed against his legs, and the piping querulous voices of the darkies called out in the uproar, "How do, Mars' Johnnie."
He had a greeting for all and threw a packet of candies from his saddle-case far beyond where we stood, saying, "After it, Nigs! Don't let the dogs get it!"
The character of John is vivid in this brief extract: dashing, dramatic, kindly, patronizing, mildly sadistic and deeply racist. (Asia always calls him "Wilkes." Cola was his beloved horse: short for Cola di Rienzi -- a Roman patriot.) Was John ultimately mad? Asia is uncertain on this point. "The light of reason will show that success alone makes the hero or the outlaw," she philosophically observes. In other words, if John Wilkes had kidnapped Lincoln, saved the South, and changed the course of history, he would today be admired, at least in Mississippi.
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