A Player and a Gentleman

The Diary of Harry Watkins, Nineteenth-Century U.S. American Actor

Subjects: Theater and Performance, History, American History, Biography, Writing
Hardcover : 9780472130917, 352 pages, 13 maps, 6 illustrations, 6 x 9, October 2018
Open Access : 9780472902613, 352 pages, 13 maps, 6 illustrations, 6 x 9, May 2021

Open access edition funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
See expanded detail +

Recaptures antebellum history by tracing the journey of actor and prodigious journal-keeper Harry Watkins

Look Inside


Hardworking actor, playwright, and stage manager Harry Watkins (1825–94) was also a prolific diarist. For fifteen years Watkins regularly recorded the plays he saw, the roles he performed, the books he read, and his impressions of current events. Performing across the U.S., Watkins collaborated with preeminent performers and producers, recording his successes and failures as well as his encounters with celebrities such as P. T. Barnum, Junius Brutus Booth, Edwin Forrest, Anna Cora Mowatt, and Lucy Stone. His is the only known diary of substantial length and scope written by a U.S. actor before the Civil War—making Watkins, essentially, the antebellum equivalent of Samuel Pepys. Theater historians Amy E. Hughes and Naomi J. Stubbs have selected, edited, and annotated excerpts from the diary in an edition that offers a vivid glimpse of how ordinary people like Watkins lived, loved, struggled, and triumphed during one of the most tumultuous periods in U.S. history. The selections in A Player and a Gentleman are drawn from a more expansive digital archive of the complete diary. The book, like its digital counterpart, will richly enhance our knowledge of antebellum theater culture and daily life in the U.S. during this period.

Amy E. Hughes is Associate Professor of Theater, Brooklyn College, CUNY.
Naomi J. Stubbs is Associate Professor of English, LaGuardia Community College, CUNY.

“Provides unique insight into the antebellum world of U.S. theater and society, offering a richly illuminating window into the granular realities and day-to-day dealings of a committed life as a stage actor and sometime stage manager and playwright in this era… a valuable resource for scholars and students of U.S. theatrical and social history.”
—Kim Marra, University of Iowa

“Creating the print and digital editions of this remarkable diary has been a prodigious effort, and the payoff is ample. Watkins gives us a voice from behind the curtain, a day-to-day account of what it meant to grind out a living through talent and cunning in the mid-nineteenth-century theatre. The editors have created a volume of immediate interest to theatre historians that will also be engaging and accessible to general readers.”
—Laura Mielke, University of Kansas

"A Player and a Gentleman is a book to be read straight through. Positioned between its 1938 forebear and the new uncorrected digital version of the Watkins diary, it makes a unique contribution to scholarship on American theatre. This book will undoubtedly become a necessary stop for both theatre scholars and general tourists interested in traveling through nineteenth-century life."
-- Theatre Survey

- Shauna Vey, New York City College of Technology, CUNY

Watch: Amy Hughes presents on the Watkins Diary at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Link | 2/5/2019