Friday, February 24, 2017

Augusta Melville on the poetry of Felicia Hemans

Felicia Hemans via Wikimedia Commons
At least ten school compositions by Herman Melville's sister Augusta Melville (1821-1876) survive in the Gansevoort-Lansing collection in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. Call number MssCol 1109, Box 308. When she began writing them Augusta was fifteen years old, in the 3rd Department at the Albany Female Academy. Her usually untitled essays treat the following topics:
  • Exemplary human exertion
  • Character of Christ
  • History of a Hat
  • Execution of Lady Jane Grey
  •  Mourners
  • The Sabbath
  • Childhood
  • The Lark (two separate drafts)
  • Sufferings of Christ 
  • Poetry of Mrs. Hemans
The Albany Female Academy gloried in its "particular attention" to Composition during the period of Augusta Melville's attendance there:

Composition has received particular attention in this institution; and it is believed that the plan pursued in teaching this important branch, has resulted in producing many correct and elegant writers. Instruction in this branch of study is commenced in the fifth department, where the pupils are daily required to incorporate in sentences, to be written by themselves, words given them by their teachers. This exercise is continued in both divisions of the fourth, and occasionally in addition to regular essays in the third department, and experience has demonstrated it to be, an efficient mode of teaching the definition and use of words, as well as the structure of language. In the first and second departments, this productive system is continued. The teachers of composition devote one hour a day to each of these departments, in correcting the essays which are given in once in every two weeks. The composition of each pupil is read aloud in her presence., and all the faults in orthography, incorrect sentences, improper use of words, &c. &c., carefully pointed out. 
Themes are occasionally given to the scholars, with an analysis or sketch of the outline, to be pursued in the construction of the essay. After the composition is corrected, the scholar is required to make a copy of the same, and return it to the teacher to be preserved in the institution.  --Documents of the Senate of the State of New York
As reported in the Albany Argus on July 22, 1836, one essay titled "The Character of Christ" (Augusta's?) nearly won 3rd prize but lost out to another student's composition on the "Genius of John Milton." Prize-winning compositions addressed the following topics:
  1. Constitution of Man
  2. Traits of Indian Character
  3. Genius of John Milton
Albany Argus - July 22, 1836
In Melville Unfolding (University of Michigan Press, 2008), John Bryant devotes a couple of pages to Augusta's writing and her brother Gansevoort's editing, helpfully summarizing their relative strengths:
In 1836, Gansevoort was himself an exuberant stylist developing his own rhetorical skills; Augusta, a clearly talented by inexperienced writer in need of (and grateful for) fraternal "correction." He was twenty years old, and she fifteen. 
--Melville Unfolding, 186
In the first volume of The Melville Log, Jay Leyda gave excerpts from two of Augusta's compositions, the one about Childhood dated October 15, 1836; and the one on Mrs. Hemans, submitted according to Leyda on January 15, 1837.
None can exceed her, and few can equal her writings in their ethereal purity of sentiment. None can do justice to them, and they will ever remain a bright meteor in the sky of fame to humble all who dare cope with her and bind undying laurels round her brow. --The Melville Log, 1.67-8
Besides getting editorial help from Gansevoort, Augusta utilized the influential criticism by Francis Jeffrey in The Edinburgh Review, excerpted in some editions of The Poetical Works of Mrs. Hemans. For instance, the canceled phrase "touching and accomplished," is Jeffrey's.

Augusta Melville's essay on the poetry of Felicia Hemans is transcribed in full below. The strike-through and highlighted portions indicate revisions made by Augusta's older brother Gansevoort Melville. Stray words and fragments aim to represent text only, not exact spatial position on the manuscript page. Two draft titles are blotted over in dark ink, the longer and more central of which appears to have read "Mrs. Heman's Poetry."
Mrs. Heman's Poetry

A sweet A sweet
        A sweet A sweet
sweet   A Sweet

A sweet tenderness and loftiness of feeling characterizes all the poetical productions of Mrs. Hemans. They possess "a purity of sentiment which could only emanate from the soul of a woman" [Francis Jeffrey in The Edinburgh Review]. In her descriptions, taste, and elegance enriched with varied images of beauty, which leave an impress, like that of nature's handiwork a soothing impresssion upon the mind. And they are not placed there for ornament, but they possess a meaning, a full decided meaning. And some peices that seem at first but mere descriptions have a fine moral attached, which shows a thorough acquaintance with human nature. Her style is fine. It paints the virtues and the vices in their true light, and condemning the vicious, applauds the virtuous. Her choise of subjects shows an acquaintance with the human mind, and an extent of knowledge which few possess. She is ever bright and beautiful in her illustrations, some have a sweet, pathetic impression which paints its image upon the mind.
"Oh! ask of them stranger!—send back the lost!
"Tell them we mourn by the dark blue streams,
"Tell them our lives but of them are dreams!
"Tell how we sat in the gloom to pine,
"And to watch for a step,—but the step was thine!"
[The Stranger in Louisiana]
Her vivid descriptions bring the scenes before our minds eye, with a force which is not equalled by any other female writer, for she is by all means the most touching and accomplished. Her writings are preeminently distinguished for their touching sincerity & exquisite pathos.
Most of her poetry is peculiarly adapted to musick. There is a softness and delicacy of sentiment, contained in it, combined with such perfect euphony, that it breaths a sweet unison
dream dreams
with any musical instrument. "Bring flowers," "the tyrolise
evening hymn" "the captive knight" are sweetly warbled by young voices in all their native purity. But her sweetest poem is "Gertrude Von Der Wart." None but a woman could have described the tenderness, the enduring love, even unto death of that frail but heroic woman! Who could watch by the tortured
vivid her vivid vivid her her her
form of him she loved, and pour forth her voice in prayer for his soul, beneath the pale stars, alone and in darkness. She strengthens him to bear his agony 
"And show my honoured love, and true,
Bear on bear nobly on,
We have the blessed heaven in view,
Whose rest shall soon be won."  [Gertrude]
And how touching the conclusion when death has at length arrived to put a period to his agonies.
"While e'en as on a martyr's grave,
She knelt on that sad spot,
And weeping blessed the God who gave,
Strength to forsake him not."
"The Better Land," the "messenger bird," and "hour of prayer" are sweet effusions from a pious soul. The "child's first grief" breaths a touching simplicity and innocence which which we seldom meet with. "The Sisters," too abounds with beautiful ideas, most beautifully expressed. The broken hearted one is about to leave the tender and devoted sister, the companion of her childhood, who is using every persuasion that ardent love can suggest to wean her back, how touching her answer. 
"Oh! woul'dst thou seek a wounded bird from shelter to detain,
"Or woul'dst thou call a spirit freed to weary life again?  [The Sisters]
And of an and
This is but a single example of the numerous beauties of pathetic description. None can exceed her, and few can equal her writings in their ethereal purity of sentiment. None can do justice to them, and they will ever remain a bright meteor in the sky of fame to humble all who dare cope with her and to bind such undying laurels round her fair brow. which will do her the honours too well deserved. Yes! hers is an enduring fame, a fame which all might covet which shall last as long as refinement and pure taste remain. In lamenting her death that exquisite passage which she composed comes forcibly to mind. 
Bring flowers pale flowers o'er the bier to shed,
A crown for the brow of the early dead.
For this through its leaves hath the white rose burst
For this in the woods was the violet nursed,
Through this look in vain for what once was ours
They are love's last giftbring flowers, pale flowers.
lau laurels
laurels lau

Miss A. Melville
--Gansevoort-Lansing collection, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sophia Hawthorne's view of Melville: "free, brave & manly"

Sophia Hawthorne, September 4, 1850 letter to her mother Elizabeth [Palmer] Peabody
via The New York Public Library Digital Collections
In Herman Melville: A Biography (V1.773) Hershel Parker calls this "by all odds  the fullest such description of Melville known to exist." Most recently, Sophia Hawthorne's physical description of Herman Melville in 1850 has been reprinted in Melville in His Own Time, edited by Steven Olsen-Smith. Now you can see online what Sophia Hawthorne wrote in manuscript, courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections
To day Mr Hawthorne & Mr Melville have gone to dine at Pittsfield. Mr. Tappan took them in his carriage.... This would have been no particular courtesy in some persons, but for this shy dear, who particularly did not wish, for some reason to be introduced to Mr Melville, it was very pretty. I have no doubt he will be repaid by finding Mr Melville a very different man from what he imagines - & very agreeable & entertaining - We find him so - a man with a true warm heart & a soul & an intellect - with life to his finger-tips - earnest, sincere & reverent, very tender & modest - And I am not sure that he is not a very great man - but I have not quite decided upon my own opinion. I should say I am not quite sure that I do not think him a very great man - for my opinion is of course as far as possible from settling the matter. He has very keen perceptive power, but what astonishes me is that his eyes are not large & deep. He seems to see every thing very accurately & how he can do so with his small eyes, I cannot tell. They are not keen eyes, either, but quite undistinguished in every way. His nose is straight & rather handsome, his mouth expressive of sensibility & emotion. He is tall & erect with an air free, brave & manly. When conversing, he is full of gesture & force, & loses himself in his subject. There is no grace nor polish. Once in a while his animation gives place to a singularly quiet expression out of these eyes, to which I have objected--an indrawn, dim look, but which at the same time makes you feel - that he is at that instant taking deepest note of what is before him. It is a strange, lazy glance, but with a power in it quite unique. He does not seem to penetrate through you, but to take you into himself. I saw him look at Una so yesterday several times.

He says it is Mr Mathews who, writing in the Literary World the visit to Berkshire, Mr Mathews calls Mr. Hawthorne "Mr. Noble Melancholy" in the August number of the paper. You know what you read was the Introduction only. It is singular how many people insist that Mr. Hawthorne is gloomy, since he is not. He is pensive perhaps - as all contemplative persons must be, especially when as in him "a great heart is the household fire of a grand intellect" (to quote his own words).
From the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, The New York Public Library. "Peabody, Elizabeth [Palmer], mother, ALS to. Sep. 4, 1850." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1850.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fragments from a Writing Desk: The approaching conclusion of a long project, THE ...

Fragments from a Writing Desk: The approaching conclusion of a long project, THE ...: Alma MacDougall has bundled up all the final volume of the Northwestern-Newberry THE WRITINGS OF HERMAN MELVILLE and shipped it off to Nor...

Melville in Joseph Gostwick's 1856 Handbook of American Literature

The reader who is wearied by sentimental fiction, may find relief in turning to the tales of adventure by Dr Mayo, Lieutenant Wise, and Hermann Melville. To write a grave critique on these books, would be ridiculous; and to make any protest against the extravagances of the writer last named, would be useless; for it would never be read by those who find delight in the pages of Mardi, Kaloolah, and similar tales. It must not be supposed that we deny the peculiar merits of these romances: we intend only to shew the impossibility of giving any critical account of them. They must be received as reports of the fluent, careless, and often brilliant talk of imaginative travellers, or dreamers of travel, who have written without any care for rules of art, or fear of critics. The passion for reading of the class to which we refer, is a curious feature in recent years. It prevails in England and Germany as in America. As practical life becomes tame and monotonous, the youthful imagination goes back to barbarism and the wildness of nature, to find excitement. Tales of adventure by land and sea, in the forests, or on the prairies of the far west, or highly coloured pictures of sensuous and luxurious life in the islands of the South Seas—these supply the intellectual refreshment of numerous young readers, and lure away their minds from the study of realities. The wildness of Melville's stories—Typee, Omoo, Mardi, and others—seems to be infectious; for in a review of Mardi, we find a critic writing in the following style:—'Reading this wild book, we can imagine ourselves mounted upon some Tartar steed, golden caparisons clank around our person, ostrich plumes of driven whiteness hang over our brow, and cloud our vision with dancing snow. . . . . Away, away, along the sandy plain!' &c. This is perhaps our most concise mode of indicating the rhapsodical style of the book itself. Typee, the first of Melville's books, tells the story of two sailors who escaped from their ship, and landed on an island of the Pacific, where they were received by the Typee natives, with whom they lived luxuriously, feasting on sucking-pigs and breadfruit, and enjoying all the licence of a primitive state of society. Mardi intermingles with its voluptuous scenery a dreamy philosophy of which we can give no clear account. --Joseph Gostwick, Handbook of American Literature
Joseph Gostwick (1814-1887) compiled well-received surveys of  German Literature, and also wrote influentially on The spirit of German poetry and English Poets.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Israel Potter in Akron, Ohio

From the Summit County Beacon [Akron, Ohio], April 4, 1855:
Israel Potter; His Fifty years of Exile, By Herman Melville. For sale by BERBE, ELKINS & CO.
The readers of Putnam's Magazine, will hear with pleasure that this deeply interesting narrative is at length complated, and given to the country in book from. Long before we guessed at the authorship, we found ourselves absorbed in the narrative; and now that the author stands revealed, we are no longer surprised at the beauty of the sketch. Melville has never written anything more readable than "Israel Potter;" and the country owes him a debt of gratitude for depicting so faithfully the chequered history of the Exiled hero.