Saturday, March 10, 2018

Verse Paraphrase of the Dutch Hymn to Saint Nicholas, 1810

This is "the first American Santa Claus poem," as Charles W. Jones called it in his much-quoted 1954 essay on the Knickerbocker Santa Claus. Professor Jones found the unattributed lines in the New York Spectator for December 15, 1810, but the poem had appeared a few days earlier in the New York Commercial Advertiser for December 12, 1810. It was also reprinted in the New York Evening Post on December 14, 1810, concluding the elaborate account of the Festival of St. Nicholas as celebrated that year by the New-York Historical Society. Found in the New York Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank:

New York Commercial Advertiser - December 12, 1810


Oh good holy man! whom we Sancte Claus name,
The Nursery forever your praise shall proclaim:
The day of your joyful revisit returns,
When each little bosom with gratitude burns,
For the gifts which at night you so kindly impart
To the girls of your love, and the boys of your heart.
Oh! come with your panniers and pockets well stow'd,
Our stockings shall help you to lighten your load,
As close by the fire-side gaily they swing,
While delighted we dream of the presents you bring.

Oh! bring the bright Orange so juicy and sweet,
Bring Almonds and Raisins to heighten the treat;
Rich Waffles and Dough-Nuts must not be forgot,
Nor Crullers and Oley-Cooks fresh from the pot.
But of all these fine presents your Saintship can find,
Oh! leave not the famous big Cookies! behind.
Or if in your hurry one thing you mislay,
Let that be the Rod—and ah! keep it away.
Then holy Saint Nicholas! all the long year,
Our books we will love, and our parents revere;
From naughty behaviour we'll always refrain,
In hopes that you'll come and reward us again.
The original "Dutch Hymn" was printed by John Pintard in the 1810 broadside for members of the New-York Historical Society, below the illustration of St. Nicholas by Alexander Anderson

St Nicholas by John Pintard (1810)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Gansevoort in 1829, reading John Franklin

In 1829 and 1830, Herman and his older brother Gansevoort Melville attended the Grammar School of Columbia College. As mentioned in an earlier post on the Grammar School, John P. Runden published two fine articles on the Columbia school in Melville Society Extracts:
  • "Columbia Grammar School: An Overlooked Year in the Lives of Gansevoort and Herman Melville" in Melville Society Extracts 46 (May 1981): 1-3; and 
The text of this 1829 letter from Gansevoort Melvill (as then spelled) to his mother Maria appears in Runden's 1981 article. I saw the original document last year in the Gansevoort-Lansing collection at NYPL in the same folder with the 1826 letter about Mrs. Palmer's tea party. My motive for giving the later letter again here is to highlight the new book Gansevoort was reading when he wrote it: Narrative of a Second Expedition to the Shores of the Polar Sea (London: John Murray, 1828) by John Franklin and John Richardson.
May 23d 1828 [1829] New York
Dear Mother
We received Uncle's letter yesterday afternoon. I am very much pleased with the Grammar School, it is divided into four room's. Mr. Ogilby's room which comprehend's the first and second classes the first class is going to college next October it consists of twenty five boys. Mr. Underdonk has the charge of the third and fourth classes I belong to the former. The Mathematical department is under the care of Mr Mac Gorman the English under that of Mr Belden who formerly taught in the second room in the High School. I only recited five lesson's in the first part of the Latin Reader and having gone ahead of the boys in my class who to tell the truth were only three I was promoted into the third class. The book that I had bought was so little injured that Mr Lockwood took it back. Mr Underdonk, my instructor, told me that if I would call at his room in Broadway, he would with pleasure explain to me any part of my lesson. I think this was extremely kind in him. I was very happy to hear that Augusta's health is improving and I hope that when she return's her former vivacity will return with her. This morning Herman went to Hoboken in high spirits and returned about four o'clock. I am now reading Franklin's second journey to the Polar sea. We all unite in love to Grandmamma, Aunt Mary and cousins. We all send a kiss to yourself and Augusta.

Your affectionate Son,
Gansevoort Melvill.
 --Gansevoort Melvill to Maria Melvill, 23 May [1829]. Gansevoort-Lansing collection, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

1826 letter from Gansevoort Melvill to his mother

Months before treating his high school assembly to Marco Bozzaris, young Gansevoort Melville (born December 6, 1815 so not yet 11) declaimed another romance of Greek resistance in the more domestic but hardly less formal setting of a fashionable children's party. Now forgotten, the Byronic verse tale of Duke Phranza, the Regicide had recently appeared, unattributed, in the March 1826 issue of Blackwood's Magazine. Gansevoort's mother, who would host her own lavish children's party in February 1827, wanted to know all about it. Hence this letter of October 6, 1826 from Gansevoort Melvill (later Melville) to his mother, transcribed herein from the original in the Gansevoort-Lansing collection, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

Gansevoort's turn to perform came after various embarrassments: a tray of muffins overturned in his lap, and "Mrs. Palmer" superintended a kissing game, "Pillows and Keys," in which the kids were unwilling to participate.

When called on, as Herman's older brother reports to their mother Maria Gansevoort Melvill on October 6, 1826, Gansevoort "spoke Duke Phranza" (spelled Phransa?) and perhaps three other pieces:
"A Lady on the field of Battle and Lawrence's Elegy, and O sacred truth."
Gansevoort does not say what other children recited, if anything. William Gilman in Melville's Early Life and Redburn (page 32) assumes they must have spoken as well, and reads Gansevoort's 1826 list of titles as a kind of program describing what others performed. "O sacred truth" probably refers to Thomas Campbell's lines on the Fall of Warsaw or Battle of Warsaw. This poem appears under the heading Pleasures of Hope in the first edition of An Essay on Elocution: With Elucidatory Passages from Various Authors, edited by John Hanbury Dwyer (Cincinnati, Ohio, 1824).

Many years later Gansevoort made numerous notes from a later edition of Dwyer in his 1837 Index Rerum, as Hershel Parker details in Melville: The Making of the Poet (Northwestern University Press, 2008), pages 47-49. In the 1828 edition of Dwyer's Elocution cited by Parker, Campbell's poem beginning "Oh! sacred Truth!" is titled The Sacking of Prague.

Lawrence's Elegy may have commemorated naval hero James Lawrence, famous for his undaunted command, "Don't give up the ship." More specifically, the piece in question might have been the Elegy in Remembrance of James Lawrence, Esquire, printed in 1813 and circulated as a broadside.

via Library of Congress





    SPIRIT of Sympathy! from Heaven descend!
A Nation weeps! Columbia mourns a friend.
Hush'd be the sound of Pleasure's thrilling lyre—
Quench'd be the flame of Passion's glowing fire;
Let shouts of victory for laurels won,
Give place to grief, for LAWRENCE, Valour's son.
To Warrior who was e'er his country's pride,
Has for that country, bravely, nobly died.
O! ne'er to man did bounteous Heaven impart
A purer spirit, a more generous heart:
And in THAT HEART did Nature sweetly blend,
The fearless Hero, and the faithful Friend.

   Low in the dust now lies that godlike form;
Cold is that hand, which in the battle-storm,
With dauntless courage held the faithful blade,
And deeds of Spartan valour there display'd.
As some fond mother who bewails her child,
And vents her grief in mournful accents wild;
So look'd Columbia's Genius when stern Death,
Relentless Tyrant, snatch'd her fav'rite's breath.

“Ah! me,” she cried, “would Heaven no longer save
“My much-lov'd Hero from the silent grave?
“Could not my prayers one little respite gain?
“Were all my tears and supplications vain?
“Must men like HIM be cropp'd in manhood's bloom,
“To fill the dreary ‘forest of the tomb?’
“Scarce had his glorious, bright career begun,
“Ere from its stellar height declin'd his sun.
“Yet long his virtues shall maintain their sway,
“And fire the Heroes of the future day.”  
   Now from the regions of Eternal Light,
To where thy soul has wing'd its joyful flight,
Witness the tears that for thy loss do flow,
Behold a nation whelm'd in silent woe:
The pearly drops which tremble in each eye,
Shall sooth thy spirit 'thron'd above the sky.

Blest Shade! Farewell! thy memory, ever dear,
Oft shall receive fair Freedom's holy tear;
In each fond heart shall live thy peerless name,
And THERE shall rise thy MONUMENTS OF FAME.
This tribute would have been deeply appreciated if young "Master Perry" were any relation to the Hero of Lake Erie, whose son and namesake Oliver Hazard Perry, Jr. was born in 1815, like Gansevoort Melville. As noted by Laurie Robertson Laurent in A Traveling Life (Chapter 1 in A Companion to Herman Melville, ed. Wyn Kelley, Wiley Blackwell, 2006), Gansevoort's parents Maria Gansevoort and Allan Melvill first met in 1813 at a ball for Oliver Hazard Perry.

The piece that Gansevoort calls "A Lady on the field of Battle" sounds very like the title of a poem by Felicia Hemans. But "Woman on the Field of Battle" first appeared over the signature "F. H." in the November 1827 issue of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. Therefore nobody at Mrs. Palmer's tea party could have recited this poem in October 1826. Here's another candidate: A Lady shot on the Field of Battle by American poet Samuel Woodworth. In February 1821 a Mr. Picket recited "A Lady shot..." as part of a benefit concert for Woodworth, held at Washington Hall in New York City.

The manuscript letter transcribed below is held by The New York Public Library in the Gansevoort-Lansing collection, Manuscripts & Archives Division, Call # MssCol 1109. Melville Family Papers, Box 308: Melvill, Gansevoort 1826-1845.
New York. Oct 6th 1826

Dear Mother

I hope you are all well as we are. You wished me to tell you about my visit to Mrs. Palmer's. James Palmer told me to be there at 5 O-Clock in the afternoon, but Papa said that was too early, but at half past four James called for me and I went. The weather was very bad, I was there first. James called for all of them and they came in the following order, Livingston Rutgers, and Edward. William Rutherford, and Betsey, Thomas, also not forgetting Robin. Miss Slidell and Miss Perry and James walked in arm in arm, when we all got seated the Girls took the Sofa. Mrs. Palmer came in with a dignified mien all dressed in black as her light form bounded oer the floor. She seated herself beside the Girls, then introduced the Girls to the boys, there sits Master Gansevoort Melvill of Bleecker Street, and so on to the whole company. Then began the entertainment. Margaret showed us some drawing books when they were done with Some Muffins were handed round to us. as soon as the plate came to me The Muffins were emptied into my lap in wild disorder. I was frightened, and the company screamed. after they were fairly on the plate again I took one.

Then we played Pillows and Keys. You must kneel before the one You want to kiss you, and you must ring the Keys 3 times and if it is a boy he must kiss the one you kneel to, and if a Girl the one she kneels to must kiss her. no one would take it, Mrs Palmer took the Pillow and Keys and rung ten times, and cried come kiss me, no one would kiss her, and she said Old Maids may ring 100 times but they never get kissed. after that they handed the tea and Cake round, Master Ed Rutgers is very fond of Margaret Palmer, and the Cakes being in the shape of a heart took one, went up to her and putting his hand upon the Cake and the Cake upon his heart, cried out My Heart, after that we played Pawns danced and and sung. Mrs Palmer called on me to speak, and I spoke Duke Phranza, A Lady on the field of Battle and Lawrence's Elegy, and O sacred truth, at 9 o'clock Ann called for me the rain pouring down in torrents. I spent  a very pleasant evening there. Ann told me to tell you to come home as soon as possible. We all join in love to you Grandmama Aunt Mary and Uncle Peter and Cousins

Your Affectionate Son
Gansevoort Melvill

PS  Tell Cris that I do not forget her
--Gansevoort Melvill to Maria Melvill, October 6, 1826. Gansevoort-Lansing collection, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Melville mention in 1878 letter from China by Francis Morgan Barber

From the "Letter from China" signed Frank M. Barber, written on July 29, 1878 from Amoy [Xiamen] aboard the U. S. Steamer Alert, and published in the Sandusky Daily Register on September 16, 1878:
In our mess for instance, we have three standing conundrums which we always ask any European who has lived in the country and appears to know anything. These are--
What is Fung-shue? What are Pagodas for? and what is the signification of the Tree Dragon and the White Tiger that one always sees in Joss houses, and frequently in other places? Fung-shue is to me something like what Herman Melville calls "Taboo" or in Typee and Emor, but that is all we have been able to find out.  The others are equally unanswerable.
As printed in the Ohio newspaper, "Emor" looks like a typo for Omoo. Then Lieutenant Commander Francis Morgan Barber was born in Ohio, which would explain why the letter home, addressed "Dear Father," found its way into the Sandusky Register.

In 1875 Barber delivered a pioneering lecture on submarines that included the first published illustration of the American Turtle. In 1889 he commanded the Monocacy on another cruise to China.

via NavSource Online
In 1900 Commander Barber published The Mechanical Triumphs of the Ancient Egyptians. As naval attache in Europe, Barber later tangled with Marconi over control of wireless radio technology, as discussed by Susan J. Douglas in The Navy Adopts the Radio, 1899-1919, chapter 3 in Military Enterprise and Technological Change, ed. Merritt Roe Smith (M. I. T. Press, 1985).
Retired Rear Admiral William Wirt Kimball surveyed Commander Barber's professional accomplishments  and character in the Army-Navy-Air Force Register and Defense Times:
"Barber's wide reading and deep learning did not, as is often the case, prevent him from obtaining wisdom and knowledge or from retaining well-balanced judgment and common sense. He was always alive to the application of the principles of the algebraic sum to men and affairs, and he was blessed by the possession of a keen sense of humor. He was a gentleman in the highest sense of the term, a most delightful companion, the most sympathetic, helpful and faithful of friends and the truest of shipmates."
According to the New York Times (January 30, 1922), Barber committed suicide after learning of the death of a close friend in the tragic collapse of the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington, D. C.
Later reports (New York Evening World, January 30, 1922) identified the friend as Baron Roman Rosen, the former Russian ambassador. Baron Rosen had in fact died recently--on New Year's Eve, in New York City, following a traffic accident there. In his memoir of Barber, Admiral Kimball implicitly tempered the more sensational newspaper reports by attributing a serious change in Barber's physical and emotional health to the effects of an accidental fall at the University Club in New York, months before.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Proof I can still find things at the library

We independent types have to be resourceful. Sometimes that means driving 50 miles to the nearest research library, and then figuring out where they keep the good stuff. Here's something fine from the Winter 1964 issue of Studies in Short Fiction, a note on "The Lightning-Rod Man" as generic salesman's story by a promising young assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Once we establish the genre of "The Lightning-Rod Man," neither its imagery nor its style needs apology. It is time that we frankly commend and enjoy this "devastating little parable" (Leyda, p. xxvi) whose allegorized folklore proved both metaphysical and magazinish and must have encouraged Melville to make extended allegorical use of demonology and folklore in The Confidence-Man.  --Hershel Parker
Truth be told I was making a virtue of necessity, being more or less forced back into the stacks after my allotted computer time ran out. Of course there were empty stations everywhere. Smart students with smart phones don't need them or the library. But the University of Minnesota shows independent scholars no love.

Friday, February 16, 2018

199th edition of The Night Before Christmas, in 1842

The surname of Clement C. Moore is misspelled "More," but clearly "W." of Annapolis knows who wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas" aka "The Night Before Christmas." The verses and their author are common knowledge by 1842, many months before Moore again acknowledged writing the Christmas poem ("not for publication, but to amuse my children") in his letter to Charles King, published in the New York American on March 1, 1844. Indeed, Moore's holiday poem is so famous by 1842 that yet another reprinting can be called "the 199th edition."


For the Maryland Republican.

MESSRS. EDITORS:--Every child has heard of St. Nicholas, and has kept awake many an hour to get a peep at him; but strange to tell, the little Dutchman persists in travelling only in the night, and always manages to fill the stockings of his good little children after their eyes are fast closed in sleep; thus it happens that very few can boast of having made his acquaintance. It seems, however, that one gentleman once had this good fortune. Children and parents are much indebted to that distinguished gentleman, (Prof. CLEMENT MORE, L. L. D. of New York,) for having given to the world such a beautiful and (as we may well suppose,) faithful description of a personage so universally clever, and of such eccentric modesty. We need not remind any one, old or young that this is the season when we may expect his annual visit. We wish him a prosperous voyage hither, and should be right glad if he would land first in our ancient and beautiful city. We have many large chimnies here, very convenient for him, with many a long stocking, the filling of which will materially lighten his pack. And in the mean time Messrs. Editors, let the children have, by way of antepast, the 199th edition of Prof. More's description of a visit from St. Nicholas, and oblige W....
--Maryland Republican (Annapolis, Maryland), December 17, 1842
In New York City years before, The Knickerbocker politely rejected a good try at representing the magic of Christmas in verse, citing Moore's prior effort as "much better" done, and already widely known:

'Stanzas for Christmas' are certainly clever lines, but they are marred by a little cacophany, toward the close. Moreover, 'H. D. C.' will find the scenes he has chosen for illustration much better described in the 'Visit of St. Nicholas,' written several years since, by CLEMENT C. MOORE, of this city, and still circulated every season, about Christmas-time, in all the newspapers, far and near." --New York Knickerbocker, January 1838

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Nonsense, trash, nursery rhymes: Laughton Osborn on The Night Before Christmas

Over the years, fans of "The Night Before Christmas" have been puzzled or amused by Clement Moore's legendary reluctance to admit that he wrote it. Misguided attribution sleuths take Moore's supposed failure to acknowledge the Christmas poem formally until 1844 (before January 1837, actually, but still a good thirteen years after its first anonymous publication in December 1823) as circumstantial evidence for authorship by Henry Livingston, Jr. Moore's poem has been so spectacularly famous for so long, readers today naturally wonder who wouldn't wish to be immortalized as its author. Only a hopelessly stuffy academic could be embarrassed by association with such universally delightful verses.

Maybe so, but the ridicule that the distinguished seminary professor might have expected, and feared, was remarkably quick in arriving. Soon after Moore revealed his authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in The New-York Book of Poetry, Laughton Osborn gave "Prof. Moore's nursery rhymes" thumbs down in The Vision of Rubeta (Boston, 1838), a brilliant if demented exercise in verse and prose that one contemporary review judged "remarkable for its wholesale satire and unlimited abuse of every thing and every body" (Washington, D. C. Madisonian, November 25, 1841). Moore was in pretty good company, since the chief objects of Osborn's satire were newspaper editors William Leete Stone Sr of the New York Commercial Advertiser and Charles King of the New York American.

Stone and King had published stinging criticism of Osborn's earlier effort, Sixty Years of the Life of Jeremy Levis. Negative reviews evidently motivated Osborn's relentless satire of the prominent New York editors and their respective newspapers in the text and extensive footnotes of Rubeta. Stone appears thinly disguised as "Rubeta," King as "Petronius."

New York American for the Country - December 31, 1836
In context then, the attack on Moore's Christmas poem reflects Osborn's larger obsession with Charles King and the New York American. On the last day of 1836, King had published a favorable review of The New-York Book of Poetry that generously quoted from "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and specifically called attention to Moore's authorship.   

To make sure readers get the point of the satire in verse, Osborn in prose glosses the apostrophe to the "loveliest book that ever cumber'd stall / Where all Manhattan's costive infants squall" as a reference to The New-York Book of Poetry (figured in the verse as equally fit for book-stall and bathroom-stall). In the footnotes ("libelous notes," according to his 1878 obit in the New York Express), Osborn launches a sustained attack on Moore's best-known contribution, as King had quoted it in the New York American:
"We regret to see this nonsense from so very respectable a man.... Such trash is not to be given to the public as pretty poetry, though it were the product of the whole faculty."
Below, the entire screed from The Vision of Rubeta:

... The other selection is "A Visit from St. Nicholas. — By C. C. Moore." (— puerique patresque severi carmina dictant. [quoting from Epistles of Horace, 2.1]) En voici le style:
"A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he look'd like a pedlar just opening his pack." etc etc.

"The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laugh'd, like a bowl full of jelly." etc etc.
Vos o patricius sanguis, quos vivere fas est
Occipiti coeco, posticae occurrite sannae. [quoting the Satires of Persius, 1.61-2]
We regret to see this nonsense from so very respectable a man: but
When grave professors stoop to folly
And find too late the Muse betray,
we have nothing left us but to do our duty. Such trash is not to be given to the public as pretty poetry, though it were the product of the whole faculty §:
Hos pueris monitus patres infundere lippos
Cum videas, quaerisne unde haec sartago loquendi
Venerit in linguas? [again quoting from Satires of Persius, 1.79-81]
Parodying famous lines by Goldsmith from Stanzas on Woman, Osborn turns Goldsmith's "lovely woman" into "grave professors," and deceitful "men" into a treacherous "Muse." The attack on Clement C. Moore in The Vision of Rubeta is also interspersed with quotations from Osborn's classical models for satire, here Horace and Persius. Osborn identifies all three sources in footnotes to the footnotes. With his quotation from the Epistles of Horace Osborn ridicules the homely theme and content of Moore's verses for children:
... sons and their stern fathers,
Hair bound up with leaves, dine, and declaim their verse.  --Poetry in Translation
Moore's rhyme of "belly" with "jelly" triggers the first of two quotations from Persius. For emphasis apparently, Osborn italicizes the Roman satirist's picture of a patrician geezer cursed with "a blind occiput" (lacking eyes in the back of his head). In other words:
"You blue bloods, who have to live backwards-blind, turn around and face the gibing behind you." --as translated by Daniel M. Hooley in The Knotted Thong
With his second quotation from the Satires of Persius, Osborn effectively likens Moore both as teacher and poet to leaky old men who lecture in a jambalaya of popular jargon, sartago denoting literally a frying pan.
When these are the lessons which you see purblind papas pouring into their children’s ears, can you ask how men come to get this hubblebubble of language into their mouths?  --Satires of A. Persius Flaccus, translated by John Conington
But Persius does not quite finish off Moore in The Vision of Rubeta. Having slammed one flattering review of The New-York Book of Poetry in the New York American, Osborn goes on to criticize another in the New York Review:
Having done this act of justice, let us ask, how it happens that the N. York Review, (No. ii.,) in noticing the Book of Poetry, selects for commendation the nursery rhymes of Prof. Moore, and the romantic stuff of Mr. Hoffman, while it passes entirely the verses of Mr. Seymour, and the other few pieces which show something like good sense, strong thought, and felicitous expression? Was it that Mr. H. is the editor of a Magazine, and Prof. Moore an influential member of society, and of connexions influential in society, and that both were possibly personal friends of the Reviewers? A want of independence, in a Review which professes to be impartial, is a want of honesty. --The Vision of Rubeta
Osborn's rhetorical question implies the answer, "Yes." His charge of favoritism is undoubtedly true: the impolite observation of an outsider looking in.

Melville readers and students may be more interested in The Montanini; The School for Critics (New York, 1868) where Osborn blasts Herman Melville's friend Evert A. Duyckinck among others.

For their part, the Duyckinck brothers did not fail to give Laughton Osborn space in the Cyclopaedia of American Literature. Another biographical entry for Laughton Osborn may be found in Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Literature.

Obituary notices described Osborn as "an eccentric genius" and compared his lonely lifestyle to that of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

· Thu, Dec 26, 1878 – Page 4 · The Saline County Journal (Salina, Kansas) ·