Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Moby-Dick in the Detroit Free Press

Found on

Not in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, this brief but flattering notice assigns to Moby-Dick the subtitle of Harry Martingale (1848):
"The adventures of a whaleman."
From the Detroit Free Press, November 21, 1851:
MOBY DICK.--The adventures of a whaleman. by Herman Mellville, author of Typee. Harper & Bros.--This peculiarly piquant narrative, reminds one forcibly of the earlier productions of the author. Its stirring scenes and adventures on the bosom of the broad Pacific, will be the life of the forecastle, on many a stormy night,
"When winds are piping high,"
and for landsmen also, will possess a peculiar charm.
For sale by McFarren. 

Forthcoming: The Whale

Found on
Herman Mellville's forthcoming book is announced by the Harpers. Its title is simply "The Whale." It will be published in octavo. --New York Evening Post, October 4, 1851

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Romance of whaling, "in the days before petroleum"

"There is no longer any interest in the subject. It was not possible for any one to say anything worth reading or listening to after Herman Melville's yarns. His "Omoo" and "White Jacket" were the last romances of the sea. Richard H. Dana, Jr., exhausted the field of "before the mast," and Melville left nothing for anybody to tell about whaling."
--Review of Nimrod of the Sea, Brooklyn Daily Union, September 8, 1874
 The Brooklyn Daily Union - September 8, 1874
By contrast, and with no thought of Moby-Dick, the Christian Watchman praised Nimrod of the Sea as "a graphically-told narrative of daring exploits" and "a deeply interesting account of the nature and habits of the whale, of the methods employed for his capture, and of the uses which he is made to serve."
A bright boy, in the reading of the book, will not fail to gather a vast deal of new information in respect to the sea and its wondrous forms of life. Scattered through it are many spirited pictures representing the perilous circumstances which surround the intrepid sailors in their attacks upon the whale." --Christian Watchman [Boston], September 10, 1874
The New York Herald (September 28, 1874) described the author William M. Davis as "one of those hardy Long Island mariners who sailed for the whale in the days before petroleum."

Found on

So far, the 1874 review of Nimrod of the Sea in the Brooklyn Daily Union is the only contemporary notice I have found that recalls Moby-Dick. However, in the same year, the review of "Jules Verne's Romances" in the Wilmington Daily Commercial favorably compares the "vein of poetry and romantic mystery" in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea with that of Moby-Dick:
But a mere fantasy, an intellectual whim, must not be carried too far, lest in the process of attenuation it should break. M. Verne touches the limit nicely in "Twenty Thousand Leagues," and that book remains his best because in addition to its audacity and wealth of invention it had a vein of poetry and romantic mystery running through it. In those respects it resembled Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," in which the practical details of whale-fishing are relieved by a fine play of the imagination.  --Wilmington [Delaware] Daily Commercial, November 4, 1874
The Nantucket Historical Association has whaling journals by William Morris Davis in 1834-1837. According to the catalog description, Log 354 ("Journal of a man before the mast or on board the Whale Ship Chelsea of New London") was "Used in preparation of William M. Davis 'Nimrod of the Sea or The American Whaleman' (Harper 1874)."

As Caleb Crain has observed, some elements in Davis's description of sperm-squeezing in Nimrod of the Sea resemble Melville's treatment of the same operation in chapter 94 of Moby-Dick. For instance, Melville imagines himself "in a Constantine's bath" of sperm, while Davis experiences a more luxurious "bath" than ever did "Solomon in all  his glory." I would like to know if and how Davis describes the operation of squeezing sperm in manuscript. And everything else, for that matter. It could be a rewarding project to compare manuscript and book versions throughout, to see what kind of rewriting was involved in 1872, and how much. Possibly the style of Moby-Dick in places influenced the editing or rewriting of Nimrod of the Sea. Obviously, Nimrod as published in 1874 could not have influenced Moby-Dick (1851), unless somehow Melville had access to "oil-stained" whaling logs of the Chelsea by William Morris Davis (1815-1891).

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Melville's "noble lines to Stonewall Jackson" in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser

Stonewall Jackson, sketch from life
via The New York Public Library Digital Collections
BATTLE PIECES AND ASPECTS OF THE WAR BY HERMAN MELVILLE. New York: Harper & Brothers. For sale by Breed, Butler & Co. Those who are fond of Melville's writings, and they are many, will doubtless desire to possess his poems. They are suggested by events of the late war, and are generally descriptive. We have but little space for criticism or quotation, but cannot refrain from giving two stanzas from his noble lines to Stonewall Jackson:
But who shall hymn the Roman heart?
   A stoic he, but even more;
The iron will and lion thew
   Were strong to inflict as to endure:
       Who like him could stand or pursue?
       His fate the fatalist followed through;
       In all his great soul found to do
          Stonewall followed his star.
*          *          *          *
O, much of doubt in after days
   Shall cling, as now, to the war
Of the right and the wrong they'll still debate
   Puzzled by Stonewall's star:
      "Fortune went with the North elate"
      "Aye, but the South had Stonewall's weight
      And he fell in the South's vain war."
--Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, September 11, 1866
The notice of Battle-Pieces transcribed above appeared in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser on September 11, 1866. At that time the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser was edited and published by James Newson Matthews and James D. Warren. But Matthews was then in Dublin, getting ready to sail home after the European vacation that he narrated in editorial correspondence for the Commercial Advertiser, published in book form as My Holiday: How I Spent It (Buffalo and New York, 1867). The brief notice of Battle-Pieces may have been written by Warren, later a model of the "stalwart" Republican.

Found on

Friday, August 11, 2017

Joseph Brenan on Melville's Pierre

The second installment of "Nights in Our Office," an irregular series of newspaper sketches in the New Orleans Daily Delta, contains a long, critical treatment of Herman Melville's Pierre as an exemplary instance of "transcendental balderdash." For such "trash" as Pierre the critic blames the influence of spirit rapping and similarly fraudulent "spiritual" fads. Ironically, within the semi-fictional setting of "Nights," the very corporeality of the critic seems questionable.

Young "Ben Fox" is said to be alone, "SOLUS," the only person left in the editorial office of the Daily Delta, yet the strong criticism of Pierre first arrives in another voice, disembodied.
"Ben Fox SOLUS. In the absence of the other young gentlemen, who have gone "across the Lake," and left him alone with the items, he is compelled to soliloquize."
Being alone, Ben Fox is "compelled to soliloquize." In context then, the voice of Melville's critic is best understood as that of the solitary editor in dialogue with himself. Further along in the review, commenting on the style and peculiar diction of Pierre, Ben Fox asserts himself in the first person: "I, Ben Fox ...." Still, accepting the conceit as presented, the critic of Pierre may be regarded as essentially a figment of the narrator's imagination and therefore--a ghost.

Considering the strong distaste expressed for the novel's "disgustingly immoral" contents, the depth of the engagement with them also seems remarkable. Ghost or no, Melville's New Orleans critic read to the end.

Who was he? As confirmed in Young Irelanders by T. F. O'Sullivan, Benjamin or Ben Fox was a pseudonym of Joseph Brenan (1828-1857), the exiled Irish patriot, poet, and journalist who served for several years as literary editor of the New Orleans Daily Delta. (Aka Joseph Brennan.) One New Orleans friend described Brenan as a "fire-eater," a brilliant writer and fanatic Southerner, but unfortunately
"reckless and desperate in his conduct, as if driven by the Furies." --Donahoe's Magazine
In 1853 (less than one year after publishing the extended attack on Pierre) Brenan contracted yellow fever. Back in New York City for a brief spell in 1854, he collaborated with John Mitchel on the anti-English and pro-slavery New York Citizen. He suffered blindness and wrote about it, in a poem that Melville's friend Evert A. Duyckinck reprinted in The Literary World on November 12, 1853. Brenan died in 1857, in his 29th year.

Earlier in 1852, before publication in August of the two "Nights in Our Office" sketches, Brenan contributed essays under various headings including "Literary Half-Hours," "Fresh Gleanings" (a title confessedly plagiarized from Donald Grant Mitchell aka Ik Marvel), and "Marginalia" (another borrowed title, from Poe, giving "extracts from the notebooks of Benjamin Fox"). Perhaps foreshadowing Brenan's dim view of Pierre, Brenan discounted the sudden popularity of Typee by claiming in one of his "Fresh Gleanings" columns that Herman Melville
"was made a favorite by one review in Blackwood."
--New Orleans Daily Delta, April 11, 1852

The first installment of "Nights in Our Office" appeared in the Sunday morning supplement to the New Orleans Daily Delta on August 15, 1852. No. I reported the after-midnight conversation among three persons in the the editorial office: "Esculapius," "Benjamin Fox," and "The Gaul." Their late night talk touches on literature, politics, and New Orleans society.

As noted above, No. II (August 22, 1852) unfolds as the soliloquy of Ben Fox, writing copy and talking to himself. The tapping sounds made by working typesetters or compositors punctuate the night editor's thoughts and writing.

The nocturnal tapping in several places evokes the practice of spirit-rapping.
"Rap! tap! rap-rap-rap-tap-tap-a-tap-tap! By the memory of all infernal noises, there are the spirits!"
Melville would similarly associate eerie tapping ("Tick! Tick!") with belief in spirits and spirit-rapping in his short fiction, The Apple-Tree Table (subtitle: "Or, Original Spiritual Manifestations"). "Ben Fox" almost anticipates Melville there, when he guesses that
"It might be some insect which has got inside the wainscotting."
Other familiar noises of the night, besides "the click-clack of the type," are the proofreader's "monotonous voice" and "the hissing sound of the steam-engine."
But the click-clack of the type is regular as ever. The monotonous voice of the proof-reader is unbroken in its flow, save when there is a pause to cross a t, or put a dot over an i, and the hissing sound of the steam-engine, which is impatient to stretch forth its strong arm and work, continues its drowsy sameness.
Occasionally the Printer's Devil emerges, too, and sneaks a mischievous comment into the editor's copy.

After a good deal of fretting, Ben Fox manages to convince himself the rapping sounds he hears in the editor's office are not made by ghosts. How long his conviction will hold out, remains uncertain.

Found on

From the New Orleans Daily Delta, August 22, 1852:
Friend Ben, it must not be. We must discountenance such absurdity. We must laugh down this rapping infamy, and crush it. We must put our paws on the supporters of it: and, if we cannot do so by gentle means, we must e'en follow your example, and--try them with the Latin! [by speaking a Latin formula for exorcism, like Dominie Sampson in Scott's Guy Mannering]. The practical results of the rascally nonsense are becoming too apparent every day. We have spiritual societies in progress of formation, newspapers edited by spirits, with the aid of gin-and-water, and suicides justified by messages from the supernal finger-points. We have a literature of the skies growing up, and distinguished authors assuring the world that they cannot write save when in nubibus. (A delicate way of saying "high," doubtless.--PRINTER'S DEVIL.)
Dear Ben: On the table, near you, is lying a specimen of the transcendental balderdash which is sent forth in good type and binding by the professors of the new religion. Let us glance at it. First, however, I will give you a brief outline of the story.

It is called "Pierre on the Ambiguities"--an ambiguous denomination enough--and has the name of Herman Melville, as the author, on the title page. It is a tale of spiritual wonders. Pierre, the son of a proud and haughty widow, is a young gentleman of literary tastes, who is on terms of singular familiarity with his mother. He calls her sister, and she always treats him as her brother. At the age of nineteen, Pierre, of course, is in love, and with a young girl whose name is Lucy, remarkable for nothing but never talking in any style save that which you and I are accustomed to call "highfalutin." The first portion of the book is taken up with their conversations, which leave those of Romeo and Juliet far behind them. As you read them, the conviction is forced upon you that those three individuals are as mad as the author, but you could not yet suppose that they are as bad. The second part contains the story of Isabel. This young lady meets Pierre one day, and shrieks. Ever after, her face haunts him. He neglects Lucy, and insults his mother. He suddenly becomes blasphemous, and inhospitably fires paradoxes at the head of a respectable clergyman who visits the family. He addresses the moon and stars, and makes speeches which would take the wind from Governor Foote [Henry Stuart Foote] or old Bullion [Thomas Hart Benton]. The beauty of his monologues is their profound incomprehensibility. They are unintelligible enough to have been dreamed by Swedenborg, or "communicated" to Andrew Jackson Davis.

One day Pierre receives a letter. It is signed by Isabel, and calls him her brother, praying him at the same time in very feminine, though rather dangerous terms, to come to her, and take her to his heart. Without any hesitation he goes and embraces her in a warmer manner than what we usually designate fraternal, before she communicates the proof of their relationship. Then Miss Isabel commences a long and misty narrative, which hints at the fact or the falsehood--for the author does not say which--of her being the illegitimate daughter of Pierre's father. She has no reason for thinking so. The transcendental young gentleman has no cause to believe it, but his resolution is taken on the spot. He is determined to save his parent's character--which the public had never assailed, and as far as we could surmise, would never trouble itself withal, provided Isabel held her tongue--and to carry out his object proceeds to ruin his own happiness. Isabel, he says, must live with him. Must consent to be called his wife, and share his fortunes for better or worse. They accordingly run away to New York, where Pierre enters a Fourierite society, and becomes an author. Their mode of living is somewhat equivocal, though mention is made of two rooms. Their residence is in the "House of the Apostles," w[h]ere a number of rappers have congregated for the express purpose, doubtless, of humbugging the world and themselves. Meantime, Pierre's mother dies of a broken heart, and Lucy--the old flame--is despaired of. By the deceased mother's will, the young transcendentalist is disinherited, and compelled to seek bread with his pen, which does not prove very profitable.

So far so good. But unfortunately, Lucy recovers and flees from her family in search of her lover. She arrives at the Apostles and is obliged to take share of Isabel's bed. Then there is the devil to pay. It is impossible to decide which is Mrs. Pierre. They cannot themselves determine which is which. Spiritualism is no use in this fix, for both go in for women's rights. Meanwhile the gentleman writes books and receives insulting messages from the publishers. Lucy paints portraits, and Isabel, jealous of her earnings, announces that she will teach the guitar. We regret to say she did not understand the instrument, however, and had to give up her project. The family quarrel increases. 'Pierre or death' is the cry of both the women--neither will give him up, and there would have been a very pretty row did not the brothers of Lucy arrive and strive to take her back to her home. Their efforts were in vain, for she held on to the bannisters like a heroine, while Pierre shot one of the brothers. Isabel, Lucy and Pierre were consequently taken to the Toombs, where they anticipated the usual legal forms with the vulgar termination, and killed themselves by swallowing poison!

Such is the tale. It smacks more of romance than reality. The details are unpleasant, and the theories put forward in the course of the narrative disgustingly immoral. The style is a hybrid--an ugly cross between Carlyle and Swedenborg. It has something of Willis about it, too. The sentences are dressed like unmeaning fops, and sometimes display a species of pinchback respectability. Occasionally they are so devoid of any scintilla of sense, that they become quite laughable.

We give a specimen or two for the benefit of persons who may not be acquainted with the manner of writing, which has resulted from spiritual rapping, and such like things. Describing Pierre's boyhood, the author says: "In the country then Nature planted our Pierre; because Nature intended a rare and original development in Pierre. Never mind if thereby she proved ambiguous to him in the end, nevertheless in the beginning she did bravely. She blew her wind-clarion from the blue hills and Pierre neighed out lyrical thoughts, as at the trumpet blast a war-horse pawed himself into a lyric of foam." I, Ben Fox, must remark, en passant, that I have heard many persons called "old hoss" before this, but "young hoss" is an epithet not at all familiar to me. If, moreover, any person skilled in rappings, can inform me what is meant by a war-horse pawing himself into a lyric of foam, I would feel under a compliment to the expounder. I fear, though, an Edipus cannot be found to read the riddle. But, let the young man proceed: "She, (viz: Nature,) lifted her spangled crest of a thickly-starred night, and forth at that glimpse of their divine captain and Lord, ten thousand mailed thoughts of heroicness (bur-r-r! what a tooth-grinder of a word!) started up in Pierre's soul and glared round for some insulted good cause to defend." Mailed thoughts glaring round! upon my personal honor! they seem uglier than the spirits.  
Here is a morsel of love-talk: "Wondrous fair of face, blue-eyed, and golden-haired, the bright blonde Lucy was arrayed in colors harmonious with the Heavens. Light blue be thy perpetual color, Lucy; light blue becomes thee best--such the repeated azure counsel of her aunt Tartan. On both sides, from the hedges, came to Pierre, the clover bloom of Saddle Meadows, and from Lucy's mouth and cheek came the fresh fragrance of her violet young being."

"Smell I flowers or thee?" cried Pierre.

"See I lakes or eyes?" cried Lucy, her own gazing down into his soul as two stars into a tarn."

The allusion to Lucy's being "light-blue" in the foregoing extract may be accounted for by the fact that she, too, was somewhat of a literary character. The "azure counsel," though, puzzles us. We have heard of a verdant advice, but an azure one is something new. The beauty of the queries touching Pierre's nasal and Lucy's visual organs, of course, we need not point out.

Towards the middle of the book a clergyman is introduced, whose personal appearance is hinted at in the following sentence: "As Pierre regarded him, sitting there so meek and mild,--such an image of white-browed, and white-handed and napkined immaculateness,--and as he felt the gentle human radiations which came from the clergyman's manly and rounded beautifulness, he felt that if to any one he could go with Christian propriety and some small hopefulness, the person was the one before him." This description is original, is it not? That "napkined immaculateness" is a touch worthy of the smartest waiter in the City Hotel; and the friends of our fellow-citizen, the well-known official, Abdomen, can appreciate the delicacy of the phrase "rounded beautifulness."

But it is in metaphysical morality our author shines with fullest lustre. We have read many dissertations on the subject of Good and Evil, Virtue and Vice; but the following concise definitions are worth the whole of them. Its chief merit, as our readers must remark, is its simplicity and intelligibility. Pierre and Isabel are in conversation.

"Tell me, what is Virtue? Begin."

"If on that point the Gods are dumb, shall a pigmy speak? Ask the air!"

"Then Virtue is nothing?"

"Not that."

"Then Vice?"
"Look; a nothing is the substance; it casts one shadow one way, and another the other way, and these two shadows cast from one nothing--these, it seems to me, are Virtue and Vice."

As a pendant to the above very clear explanation, we beg leave to suggest that two and two make twenty; but twenty looks towards a hundred, and casts a shadow of a naught, and therefore, a naught is considerably more than ninety-nine!

But enough of this trash. I would not have mentioned the book at all, friend Ben, but as an instance of the rabid nonsense which is the result of the spiritual mania. Away with it--away with it. God's stars shine in their place still, and we will not allow filthy oil-lamps or farthing candles to be substituted for them. God's truth is simple, and it shall not be oppressed under a load of stupid stuff. God's law is eternal, and will out-live all the tricks of imposture, and the blasphemy of bastard philosophies.

Meanwhile--tap! Ha! there it is again. Come back, are you? Well, you are fools for your pains. Tap, tap--very singular, I admit, but gammon still. Very awful at this hour, too, and suggestive of shivering.

Tap! Good night. I must get home. Probably, however, you, thirsty denizen of the noisy land, would join me in a "smile." Tap, tap. Deuce fear you, I knew you would. 
(Exit Ben, fumbling in his pockets.)
Two of the better-known poems by Joseph Brenan are reprinted in The Popular Poets and Poetry of Ireland.

Herman Melville owned a copy of Poems by James Clarence Mangan (New York, 1859) with Mangan's ballad "To Joseph Brenan" (not marked). You can now see digitized images of the volume Melville owned courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University:
Below, another copy via the great Internet Archive:

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Where to find lines traced under an image of Amor threatening

via Willow*Winds*Art*Antiques on ebay
In a lady's album. That is, "the lady's album of the nineteenth-century in which verses were inscribed, signed, and dated" (Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries), a later development, alongside the autograph album, of the early modern Album Amicorum. In prose fiction, Melville has already told us how his young hero Pierre became a popular author and was besieged with requests to write in ladies' albums.
"Not seldom Pierre's social placidity was ruffled by polite entreaties from the young ladies that he would be pleased to grace their Albums with some nice little song."
Finding such requests awkward, Pierre wanted a creative way to oblige them without actually writing anything.
What could Pierre write of his own on Love or any thing else, that would surpass what divine Hafiz wrote so many long centuries ago? Was there not Anacreon too, and Catullus, and Ovid—all translated, and readily accessible? And then—bless all their souls!—had the dear creatures forgotten Tom Moore? --Pierre; Or, The Ambiguities
The dodge Pierre finally devises is to blow a kiss over them, collectively, then send them back with one real "confectioner's kiss" allotted to each lady.

Melville describes only the outside of the albums that Pierre receives, making a point to observe the sensory appeal of their "ornate bindings," and the devious manner in which the owners have them scented with expensive perfume. Melville does not say the pages were decorated with beautiful engravings. The more expensive ones were.

For a long time now the italicized poem before Melville's poem "After the Pleasure Party" has had me mystified. I kept trying to imagine the poet in the Louvre or some other museum of art, standing under a painting of Eros, and scribbling away in his notebook. Deep down I knew I didn't get it.

Reading in Zamira, a dramatic sketch (1835) by Jonas B. Phillips, I ran into the following piece, one of the miscellaneous poems collected along with Zamira, the titular verse drama.

Written in a Lady's Album, beneath an engraving
of Love sharpening his arrows. 
--Jonas B. Phillips in Zamira, a Dramatic Sketch: And Other Poems (New York, 1835)
Lines? Under a picture? Of Cupid "sharpening his arrows"? Italics? The heading of these "Lines" by John B. Phillips features all the main elements of the heading to the italicized poem that introduces Melville's "After the Pleasure Party." The title of Melville's introductory poem or epigraph might serve also as a subtitle for the whole "Pleasure Party": "Lines traced under an image of Amor threatening."
Fear me, virgin whosoever
Taking pride from love exempt,
Fear me, slighted. Never, never
Brave me, nor my fury tempt:
Downy wings, but wroth they beat
Tempest even in reason's seat.  --Intro to After the Pleasure Party
Both the poem and the poem before the poem may be read as verses written ("traced") in a finely made Lady's Album, under an engraved "image" of Eros sharpening his arrows, or some other depiction of "Amor threatening."

In the same genre of verses inscribed under pictures in ladies' albums, Mary Ann Browne in Ada and Other Poems (London, 1828) offers "Lines Written Beneath a Drawing of Heart's-Ease, in the Album of a Lady, Who Was Personally Unknown to the Author."

Different image, same genre:

And here's one more, merely hinting at the range of pictorial subjects that might inspire lines in a lady's album:

Pictures of beautiful autograph books on Pinterest look later than the thing I have in mind, but a real material example could be findable. The image from Godey's Lady's Book of Cupid taking aim gets at the right idea, (Beware of boys with wings and arrows) in almost the right place (popular reading for women). His wings should be bigger and fluffier though, since Melville's inscriber notes his "Downy wings." I'm still looking for a lady's album or autograph book with an engraving or other kind of illustration that shows the downy-winged God of Love, pointing. If there's a love-sonnet under it, so much the better. Leads welcome anytime.

Piero della Francesca - Cupid Blindfolded - WGA17587
Cupid Blindfolded by Piero della Francesca
via Wikimedia Commons
Related post: After the Pleasure Party and Hogarth's madhouse

Charles Booth Parsons on Melville's Pierre

Charles Booth Parsons as Caius Silius
via University of Illinois Library Digital Collections
The Nashville and Louisville Christian Advocate was affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Published in Nashville, the weekly paper was edited in 1852 by John B. McFerrin and (in Louisville) by Associate Editor Charles Booth Parsons. McFerrin had officiated in 1849 at the funeral of James K. Polk in Nashville.

Parsons, a preacher and former traveling stage actor, compared and contrasted his "two itinerancies" in The Pulpit and the Stage (1860). His dismissive use there of the expression "etherealized intellectuality" recalls the contempt for "etherealized madness" expressed in the notice of Pierre in the Christian Advocate on September 2, 1852. Parson's authorship is clinched by the fact that the review of Pierre appears on page 3 in the Louisville section of The Christian Advocate, Parson's domain until he formally took his leave as Associate Editor on June 29, 1854.

Nashville and Louisville Christian Advocate - September 2, 1852
Harper & Bros. N. Y. 8 vo., pp. 495.

This is a work which, we should suppose, might have come from some literary "Alembic," set in a cell of lunacy. It is evidently made up of the wild vagaries of a diseased imagination, in which unnaturalness of character and improbable events greet the reader, though a style as cumbersome and o'erwrought as the tale is unlikely and barren of truth. Such as love to wander 'midst the mazes of etherealized madness, will find, we presume, a congenial companion in the "Ambiguities," which is a proper and very significant title to the book.-- What good end can possibly be promised by the publication of such trash, we are at a loss to discover. And yet "their name is legion."
A biographical sketch of Charles Booth Parsons signed "Colley Cibber" was published in three parts in the The Dramatic Mirror and Literary Companion. Below are links to each installment in the digitized Volume 1:
Parsons played the usual leading roles including Macbeth and Othello. For his biographer in the Dramatic Mirror, Parsons triumphed in the role of Oranaska, the Mohawk chief in the tragedy by neglected New York dramatist Jonas B. Phillips. As Parsons also recounts in The Pulpit and the Stage, in New Orleans his performance as Oranaska was witnessed (and approved, reportedly) by an invited group of Seminole chiefs.

Parsons also excelled as Roaring Ralph Stackpole in Nick of the Woods.
Charley Parsons played at the South Pearl Street Theatre, after Burrough's time....
Parsons was an inferior actor, especially in tragedy — he was of Herculean frame, round shouldered, and had a voice like artificial stage thunder! He was a great favorite, however, in the southwest. He played Roaring Ralph Stackpole to perfection. Had Dr. Bird seen Ralph and Parsons he would have been puzzled to distinguish one from the other. It was actually worth the price of admission to see Parsons as Ralph, without his uttering a word. Parsons being a speculative genius, left the stage and went to preaching in the Methodist church at Louisville, but he soon slid backwards, and finally slid on the stage again — but the spec wouldn't pay; he made a failure, and so Roaring Ralph abandoned the devil's frying pan (the stage), and was once more received to the arms of his deserted flock. I heard him preach the next Sunday after he left the stage, but it was Roaring Ralph all through the sermon, the prayer, the benediction.
--Henry Dickinson Stone, Personal Recollections of the Drama
In Players of a Century: A Record of the Albany Stage, Henry Pitt Phelps calls Parsons "a very bad actor" and colorfully describes his conversion in Louisville.

Charles Booth Parsons performed in Albany when Herman Melville lived there. Melville was fourteen when Parsons appeared as Macbeth at the Albany Theatre on November 4, 1833.

Albany Argus - November 4, 1833
On previous evenings during the same 1833 engagement Parsons starred in the roles of Virginius (November 1st) and Sir Giles Overreach (November 3rd). After Macbeth, Parsons appeared as William Tell (November 5th).

Parsons returned as Macbeth on September 18, 1834. His advertised "last appearance" came the next night, September 19, 1834, when Parsons starred in, hey hey,
"the highly successful Indian tragedy of ORANASKA." --Albany Evening Journal, September 19, 1834

Monday, August 7, 2017

Redburn in the Oneida Morning Herald

Time to tidy up. We already located favorable notices of Mardi (1849) and White-Jacket (1850) by editors Richard U. Sherman and Erastus Clark, so there pretty much has to be one of Redburn (1849), too, somewhere in the Morning Herald. Here:

Oneida Morning Herald [Utica, New York] - November 22, 1849
Herman Melville, the author of those exquisite creations Typee and Omoo has just published another work. "Redburn, His first voyage being the sailor boy Confession's of a Gentleman's Son in the Merchant service. We have not had time to peruse it yet we have no doubt that the same humor, clearness and minuteness of observation, the same fancy at all times pleasant and oftentimes highly exalted, and a like chaste style which mark his first productions are the properties of "Redburn." 
This work can be had at TRACY's.
Related posts:

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Ellis Henry Roberts protests "ferocious diatribe" against Melville and Pierre (1852) in the Whig Review

Ellis Henry Roberts
Ellis Henry Roberts via Wikimedia Commons
Known as "a leading Whig journal of central New York" (Men of Mark in America), the Oneida Herald was edited and published in Utica from 1851 to 1889 or later by Ellis Henry Roberts. Roberts had worked his way through Yale as a professional printer and compositor. After a year as principal of the Utica Academy, he took over the Morning Herald from Richard Updike Sherman. At Yale, Roberts
took prizes including the Townsend prize in English composition in his senior year; he was chosen by his classmates in his junior year first editor of the "Yale Literary Magazine." --Men of Mark in America
In print, Roberts continued the friendly treatment of Herman Melville displayed in the Utica Morning Herald by former editors Richard U. Sherman and Erastus Clark. Transcribed below, the Whig editor's complaint about the "ferocious diatribe" in the November 1852 American Whig Review is important as a rare public defense of Melville when he really needed it. The pro-Melville protest went against the current of popular criticism in which Melville's latest book, Pierre, had been generally damned. Melville's own publishers started the rumor that he was crazy, as Hershel Parker demonstrates in the second volume of Herman Melville: A Biography (page 125); and revealingly elaborates in Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative (page 409).

Oneida Weekly Herald - October 26, 1852
WHIG REVIEW.— The November number is already at hand. It is embellished by a portrait of Hon. Truman Smith. The articles entitled "The Prospect" and "General Scott an his Assailants" should be read by every voter, Whig and Democrat. The other articles, with the exception of a most ferocious diatribe on Herman Melville—which is by far the most unjust specimen of criticism we have read during the past five years—are of more than ordinary merit.
Roberts does not name names, but Melville scholars now attribute the notably "ferocious" and "unjust" review to George Washington Peck.

The American Whig Review - November 1852
"A BAD book! Affected in dialect, unnatural in conception, repulsive in plot, and inartistic in construction. Such is Mr. Melville's worst and latest work."
Parker memorably calls him "Melville's perverse alcoholic nemesis" (Herman Melville: A Biography, V2.142). With good reason, as the published complaint in the Oneida Weekly Herald, a prominent Whig newspaper, serves to confirm (accepting the usual attribution of the very very nasty review to G. W. Peck). I wonder though: as Pierre bombed, who besides Ellis Henry Roberts (Whig or Democrat) ever called attention to the extraordinary meanness of the criticism in the American Whig Review? Not Samuel Bowles and J. G. Holland, friendly editors of the Springfield Republican and then practically in Melville's back yard.

Springfield Republican - October 25, 1852
"The American Whig Review, for November, has a very fine portrait of Truman Smith, and is well filled with sterling literary and political articles. It can be found at Bessey's."
--Springfield Republican, October 25, 1852
G. W. Peck's correspondence with Evert A. Duyckinck included, besides desperate offers of his writing to pay for rent and food, several manuscript pages of autobiography. The autobiographical sketch and a few surviving letters and notes received by Duyckinck are now available online, courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Peck's manuscript autobiography was incorporated in the 1856 Cyclopaedia of American Literature, edited by Evert and his brother George L. Duyckinck. The entry for G. W. Peck appears in Volume 2 between entries for Cornelius Mathews and J. Ross Browne.
"Mr. Peck is a well read literary critic of insight and acumen, and a writer of freshness and originality."  --Cyclopaedia of American Literature
A condensed and posthumously published entry in Appleton's Cyclopaedia informs readers that the Atlantic Monthly published something by G. W. Peck shortly before his death on June 6, 1859, part of a longer "essay on Shakespeare." Peck's contribution may be the unsigned article titled "Shakespeare's Art," published in the June 1859 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Peck is credited as the author of "Shakespeare's Art" in the bibliography of "Shakespeariana" published in the 1878 Catalogue of the Works of William Shakespeare by James Mascarene Hubbard.

Other sources credit Herman Melville's friend and future Customs House colleague Richard Grant White as author of the same essay on "Shakespeare's Art" in the June 1859 Atlantic Monthly.

More information about the life and career of Ellis Henry Roberts may be found in the 1918 edition of American Biography: A New Cyclopedia, Volume 2, offering an extended treatment of Roberts as an exceptionally influential "molder of the thought of Central New York, politically and socially."

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Favorable review of Mardi in the Oneida Morning Herald

"There is manifested a wide range of learning, a bold originality of thought, an exuberant fancy, and a figurative sprightliness which could not fail of imparting interest to any work."
From the Oneida Morning Herald, May 26, 1849:
MARDI: And a Voyage Thither.By Herman Melville. In two volumes. Harper & Brothers, 82 Cliff street, New York, 1849.

This third work of Mr. Melville's sufficiently evinces that his former works, Typee and Omoo, were no fictions. When, as in this instance, the author confessedly enters the field of romance, although he carries with him many of his former charming characteristics, it is easily perceived that he is dealing with very different materialsis in quite another element.

Mardi has many excellencies, as is sufficiently evinced by the attention which it receives from the critics. Its conception indicates no stinted genius or want of artistic talent. There is manifested a wide range of learning, a bold originality of thought, an exuberant fancy, and a figurative sprightliness which could not fail of imparting interest to any work. In most of these respects it surpasses Mr. Melville's former productions. They need the power of the mental crucible to fuse them into a harmonious whole. This, and what sometimes appears like straining after effect, with perhaps a little ultraism of opinion, are almost its only faults. Its excellencies will win for it many admirers.
Published in Utica, New York, the Oneida Morning Herald was co-edited then by Richard Updike Sherman and Erastus Clark. Their highly complimentary review of White-Jacket in the Oneida Morning Herald for April 6, 1850, is transcribed in the 2014 melvilliana post linked below:

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Battle-Pieces in Rochester

Here are two of the earliest published notices of Melville's Battle-Pieces anywhere. Both items found in the online archives of New York newspapers at Fulton History.

In the first edition of Battle-Pieces the second line of "The Portent" reads "Slowly swaying" not "Slowly swinging" as printed in the Rochester Evening Express on August 27, 1866.

Rochester Evening Express - August 27, 1866

New Books.

BATTLE PIECES AND ASPECTS OF THE WAR, by Herman Melville, author of "Typee," "Omoo," "Redburn," "Mardi," "Moby Dick," "Whitejacket," &c. New York: Harper & Bros.

But little has been heard, of late, from the author of those very attractive novels, "Typee," &c. We have here a volume of poems of the war, "Battle Pieces," dedicated to the "memory of the Three Hundred Thousand who in the war for the maintenance of the Union, fell devotedly under the flag of their fathers." The author says that "with few exceptions, the pieces in this volume originated in an impulse imparted by the fall of Richmond." The opening piece is
Hanging from the beam,
   Slowly swinging (such the law),
Gaunt the shadow on your green
The cut is on the crown
       (Lo! John Brown),
And the stabs shall heal no more.
Hidden in the cap
   Is the anguish none can draw;
So your future veils its face,
But the streaming beard is shown
       (Weird John Brown),
Meteor of the war.
The pieces are good, so far as we have read and of the right loyal and honest sentiment. For sale by Dewey.
Below, another early notice of Melville's Battle-Pieces in Rochester, this one published in the Daily Union and Advertiser on August 28, 1866:

Rochester Daily Union & Advertiser - August 28, 1866
BATTLE PIECES AND ASPECTS OF THE WAR.— By Herman Melville. This is a volume of nearly three hundred pages filled with poetry relating to the battles and stirring events of the late civil war. The fame of the great commanders is celebrated in song, and the noted engagements are described in verse, all done in a creditable manner. Those who participated in the great battles or marched to the command of the great Generals will find much in this to prize.

Battle-Pieces in The New York Sun

The New York Sun - December 7, 1866
BATTLE PIECES AND ASPECTS OF THE WAR. Poems, by Herman Melville. Published by Harper Bros., New York.

Mr. Melville has already a fair reputation as a poet and graceful writer, and this volume will meet a kind reception. The author has chosen themes for rhyme that would perhaps read better in prose—especially if written in his own easy, pleasing style. As descriptions of scenes and events, the book will doubtless prove one of much interest to thousands who participated in some of the many battles that form the staple of the author's praise and song. Asa poetry, there are few, if any, pieces that can be ranked above mediocrity. While throughout the whole volume there runs an unmistakable sentiment of true patriotism, Mr. Melville is yet liberal in his views, and generous enough to praise the virtues of his country's enemies.

Moby-Dick in the Buffalo Daily Courier

Buffalo Daily Courier - Saturday, November 22, 1851
MOBY DICK OR THE WHALE. By Herman Melville, author of "Type[e]," "Omoo," "Redburn," &c. Harper & Bros.

This is a joyous book, full of fine witicisms, and delicate and rapid touches of humor and interest. It takes us, as in a ship with spreading sails set, flying gaily through light summer seas, in a genial climate, surrounded by flying fish and in the best of spirits and company, thro' a voyage spent in the chase and capture of this royal fish, compared with which the mightiest elephant is but as a terrier.— The invention of the author never seems to flag and his descriptions of scenery are unsurpassed.— His sketches are not to be compared to those made by a pencil, for he certainly paints in warm and glowing colors, the several characters he chooses to present; and more than all this, there is a singular vein of graphic originality in his style both of words and thoughts. We have no slight pride and pleasure in saying that his merits are unquestionably recognized on both sides of the Atlantic. For sale by PHINNEY & CO.
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Friday, August 4, 2017

Mardi in the Buffalo Daily Courier

Found on

Like some other contemporary reviews of Mardi (London Athenaeum; Boston Post), the review in the Buffalo Daily Courier alludes to the old joke about the extremely rare "man who read The Monikins." The point was, Melville's indulgent allegory is about as tedious and overblown as Cooper's worst fiction. Unreadable, to most men. Indeed, the man who read Melville's Mardi would almost have to be a woman. This, all kidding aside, strikes me as the Buffalo critic's keenest insight.

Melville's chapters in Volume 2 on the south of Vivienza receive special attention, and rebuke. At least one other reviewer (in The Southern Quarterly Review) likewise complained about the satire of John C. Calhoun. The Buffalo critic equally dislikes Melville's satirical portrait in Mardi of Democratic Senator William Allen of Ohio as the "lunatic" legislator Alanno of Hio-Hio. The anti-slavery theme of the Vivenza section provokes a strong attack on Melville's perceived views there as
"ultra and offensive abolition doctrines."
Not in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews and only recently available online at  I found this review of Mardi with a trove of Melville notices in the Buffalo Daily Courier, searching exclusively for Melville items added in the past 1 month.

The Buffalo Daily Courier in 1848 was edited by William A. Seaver, published by Seaver and Robert D. Foy.
"But in 1849 the whole establishment was bought by W. A. Seaver, who became both publisher and editor for the next few years." --A History of Buffalo
Seaver formerly edited the Batavia Spirit of the Times. After the Civil War (1868-1883), he superintended the popular "Editor's Drawer" in Harper's Magazine. Seaver died on January 7, 1883.

Springfield Republican - April 13, 1874
Transcribed below from the Buffalo Daily Courier, April 21, 1849, via
Mardi and a Voyage Thither. By Herman Melville. New York; Harper & Brothers. 2 Vols. 12 mo. pp 365 and 387. 
When this young and talented author burst upon the world with his romantic narrations of "Typee" and "Omoo" and opened up to the admiring gaze of his thousands of readers the previous hidden scenes of Polynesian life, presenting in all their gorgeousness of coloring and freshness of design the dreamy and sensual beauties of a land untrodden by the foot of poet or painter, men read and admired, and while they did not scruple to doubt, were still grateful for the repast thus refreshingly spread before them. Many are there of those old guests, upon whose palates still lingers the fruity flavor of that banquet, who will be tempted again to taste, but who are doomed to find, beneath this fair exterior, a core and heart of ashes. 
It were hard to discover without carefully reading the book over and over again, what the writer would be at, and we therefore predict that it will be quietly stowed away in that wallet
"———Which Time has ever at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,"
without its latent and hidden meaning becoming public. Hereafter the man who read "Mardi" and he, whom the world has so long sought in vain, he of the "Monnikins," shall equally divide its reverent admiration.

That an allegory is intended in these two volumes of an hundred and ninety-five chapters is tolerably clear, but beyond that we have not dared to go in our investigations. Story, aside from that contained in the first half of the first volume, there is none, nor have we been able to discover, beneath the mass of verbiage and incoherency that succeeds, any revelations of new truths, any clearer expoundings of old ones. A few flings at the recent French Revolution, a chapter or two of ultra and offensive abolition doctrines, with personal attacks upon Mr. Calhoun, and Mr. Allen, member of Congress from Ohio, we noticed from their prominence, as also considerable adulation of England mixed with a little necessary but mild sarcasm upon her treatment of her starving spinners and reapers. Indeed the book is evidently made for English consumption, and there, if anywhere, will be found the ambitious man—or more probably, woman—destined to that singular fame we have mentioned.

"Mardi" opens on board a ship, cruising in the vicinity of the Equator, in search of the Sperm Whale. Three years of unsuccessful voyaging have induced the Captain to abandon the pursuit and the "Arcturion's" course is altered for the northern seas, with the intention of securing a cargo of Right-whale oil. Not fancying a sojourn in those hyperborean regions, our author, a foremast hand on board, ventures to remonstrate with his commander upon this infraction of the articles binding both, and demands to be put on shore.— The Captain, however, while he admits the cogency of the arguments advanced, intimates that in this case right must make slight concessions to might, and, in effect, that the remonstrant must accompany him on his arctic voyage, but so far exceeds to his inferior's wishes as to grant him permission to leave the ship if he can, "saying which, he walked into his cabin, like Caesar into his tent."

Our gentleman, who is determined not to go to Kamschatka, now begins to cast about for means by which to gratify his desire to remain in the tropics. Ruminating upon this subject at the masthead, a parlous fine place for quiet cogitation, he hits upon a plan, or rather selects the only one which is at all feasible, one which, though it may appear a bagatelle to an adventurous sailor, is not without its spice of peril to a landsman. He will steal one of the four boats suspended from the davits, and, in that frail bark, make good his passage to some westerly isles he wots of, distant many hundreds, or it may be thousands of leagues from the then position of the ship: preferring to take the chances of a favorable reception among the natives there, to trusting his person—rendered somewhat effeminate by a long sojourn under the vertical rays of an equatorial sun—among the icebergs of Bhering's Straits. Accordingly, as it seems desirable that he shall not undertake this grand project single handed, he communicates it to a mess-mate named "Jarl," a native of the isle of Skye, which indomitable Norseman, after revolving the matter thoroughly in his mind, consents to make one of the boating party. The details of this preparation are given, in rather a Censorish manner, being intended doubtless, as memoranda for the use of future adventurers, and viewed in that light, extremely likely to be useful. At last, all is ready, and at twelve o'clock, of a dark night, the two deserters embark on board the ticklish craft.
“All ready, Jarl?" 
“A man overboard!” I shouted at the top of my compass; and like lightning the cords slid through our blistering hands, and with a tremendous shock the boat bounded on the sea's back. One mad sheer and plunge, one terrible strain on the tackles as we sunk in the trough of the waves, tugged upon by the towing breaker, and our knives severed the tackle ropes—we hazarded not unhooking the blocks— our oars were out, and the good boat headed round, with prow to leeward. 
“Man overboard!” was now shouted from stem to stern. And directly we heard the confused tramping and shouting of the sailors, as they rushed from their dreams into the almost inscrutable darkness. 
“Man overboard! Man overboard!” My heart smote me as the human cry of horror came out of the black vaulted night. 
“Down helm!''' was soon heard from the chief mate. “Back the main-yard! Quick to the boats! How's this? One down already? Well done! Hold on, then, those other boats!''' 
Meanwhile several seamen were shouting as they strained at the braces. 
“Cut! cut all! Lower away! lower away!” impatiently cried the sailors, who already had leaped into the boats.

“Heave the ship to, and hold fast every thing,” cried the captain, apparently just springing to the deck. “One boat's enough. Steward! show a light there from the mizzen-top. Boat ahoy!—Have you got that man?" 
No reply. The voice came out of a cloud; the ship dimly showing like a ghost. We had desisted from rowing, and hand over hand were now hauling in upon the rope attached to the breaker, which we soon lifted into the boat, instantly resuming our oars. 
“Pull! pull, men! and save him!" again shouted the captain. 
“Ay, ay, sir,” answered Jarl instinctively, “pulling as hard as ever we can, sir." 
And pull we did, till nothing could be heard from the ship but a confused tumult; and, ever and anon, the hoarse shout of the captain, too distant to be understood. 
We now set our sail to a light air; and right into the darkness, and dead to leeward, we rowed and sailed till morning dawned.
The events following immediately upon this hegira are sufficiently interesting to give earnest for the future; how, for sixteen days, they continued to steer for the west, without seeing land or sail; how, on the night of the last day they fell in with, and took possession of a brigantine, at first supposed to be abandoned, but found, the next morning to be navigated by a one armed islander and his wife, between whom there existed a conjugal coolness that had led to their inhabiting one the cabin and the other the forecastle of the vessel; how, after cruising for some days in this craft, they were compelled by disasters maratime, again to take to the whale-boat, now incumbered by the additional presence of the ill matched pair of savages; how, after more days of cruising without any very distinct purpose, beyond that of saving their lives, they fall in with a remarkable floating chapel, manned by an old priest and fourteen neophytes, his sons, on their way to solemnizing some devotional rite, and accompanied by a light-complexioned, golden-haired girl, whose role in the ceremony consists in being burned; how, moved thereunto by the dictates of humanity, they killed the old priest, carried his craft by boarding and made off with the maiden; how the memory of Fayaway was outraged by the author's falling intensely in love with the prize, which sentiment he supposed to be reciprocated; how they finally arrived at Mardi and being received as demi-gods, and bearing their honors meekly, were forthwith installed in clover;—all this is well told, and will amply repay the perusal, but here the interest ceases, and from this point on, with occasional glimpses of light, the reader flounders in a slough of despond, getting deeper and deeper as he proceeds, until he is fain to give up the task in despair. The rest of the book is so unlike this introduction and the previous works of the author that we can almost believe it to be from a different pen.
Between gigs in Sandusky, Ohio, Melville's old shipmate Richard T. Greene reportedly enjoyed a brief connection with the Buffalo Daily Courier.

Found on

Evidently Greene's tenure as "local" editor lasted only a couple of weeks:

Found on

As previously documented in Herman Melville's Whaling Years (Appendix 1, page 213):
"... in March 1855 he accepted a position as an editor of the Buffalo Daily Courier, a position that lasted about two weeks." 
Reprinted in Herman Melville's Whaling Years, the 1892 obituary in the Chicago News Record (August 25, 1892) is vaguer on the timing of Greene's association with the Buffalo Daily Courier. If Greene ever contributed to the Buffalo Daily Courier in the early 1850's, he might (conceivably, I mean) be responsible for the bubbly reception of Moby-Dick published on November 22, 1851. Forthcoming soon, hopefully in the next post. Whoever wrote it, the short, cheery notice of Moby-Dick in the Buffalo Daily Courier is obviously in a different vein than the pointed and partisan criticism of Mardi. Criticism of Mardi by editor and staunch Democrat William A. Seaver?
"William A. Seaver, equally apt with pen and scissors, writes away with a graceful vigor and a pungent fluency on politics, persons and miscellany. His articles mark the studious reader and thinker, and have a relish of a well stored library at his elbow. He is one of the neatest paragraphers in the Union. 
--Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, July 31, 1851
More on the long literary career of William A. Seaver, from the memorial tribute published in Harper's Weekly, January 20, 1883:

MR. WILLIAM A. SEAVER, whose sudden death on the 7th instant was a surprise and shock to all his friends, was born in Albany, New York, March 10, 1815. His parents removed to Batavia while he was in his infancy, and there he was brought up and educated. His first venture of any importance was in connection with the Buffalo Courier, of which he was for several years the editor; 
MR. SEAVER came to New York more than twenty years ago, and occupied himself with literary pursuits. He was at one time editor of a Church journal in this city, and correspondent for several newspapers in the South and West. In 1868 he was placed in charge of the“ Editor’s Drawer,” in HARPER'S MAGAZINE, a position for which he was well qualified by his acquaintance with men, his position in society, and his rare aptitude as a raconteur. The “ Drawer" is literally what the name implies. When this department was first projected, in the summer of 1851, the clippings and contributions intended for it were thrown into a drawer of a certain desk, and this circumstance suggested the name. The same method has been pursued ever since that time. The contributions for this department of the MAGAZINE, which come from every part of the country, are still deposited in the drawer, whence the editor takes them and culls his selections. Many of the contributions are merely crude suggestions, and MR. SEAVER displayed fine tact in editing, condensing, or enlarging them. For many years MR. SEAVER also conducted the “ Personal" departments in HARPER'S BAZAR and HARPER'S WEEKLY, the latter until the last week of his life. On the Wednesday preceding his death his “copy“ came to the office, written in his usual clear and remarkably neat hand, and the editor, glancing over the familiar MS., had little thought that it was the last he should receive from his long-time associate. 
MR. SEAVER was for some years President of the Adriatic Fire-insurance Company, of this city, and was also a member of the New York bar. He belonged to the Union Club, where his presence was always welcome, for his genial social qualities and his inexhaustible fund of anecdote and story. He resided in a pleasant cottage at Mount Vernon, where he had gathered an extensive and well-selected library. The cause of his death was acute pneumonia.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fidelius on Melville and "the fowl mania"

Here's another mention of Herman Melville by "Fidelius," a New York correspondent of the Boston Evening Transcript. From the "Second Edition" of the Boston Evening Transcript, April 24, 1855; found in the online archives of Historical Newspapers at Genealogy Bank.
[Correspondence of the Transcript]
NEW YORK, April 23d, 1855.

Dear Transcript: Several of the principal hotels have raised their prices within a few days; and the discourse about New York expensiveness is revived. The sober fact is, that there is no city in the world where so much money is unsatisfactorily spent as here. I heard a gentleman fresh from Paris, say, the other day, that a parlor and bedroom, for a fortnight, at the Astor, cost him as much as four times the same amount of accommodation for his family at Maurice's. Strange that in a country where there is an abundance of space, an ample field to produce provisions, and few local monopolies, it costs so much to live in a most unsatisfactory manner!

Willis was in town a few days ago, with little trace of invalidism about him,--so much for keeping up a good heart, living in the country, and avoiding drugs!

At a dinner party last week, the conversation turned upon the fowl mania, recently developed in this country; one gentleman referred to the popular engravings of Shangai monstrosities, another to Burnham's book on the hen-fever, and a third to Melville's story in Harper, of "Cock-a-doodle;" "yes," observed another, better versed in cotton than literature, "the thing seems to be getting into books fast; I saw one advertised the other day, called 'Wolfert's Roost,' another Shanghai work, I suppose." The best of the joke was that Irving was at the table, and within ear-shot.

You will be glad to know that the accident which happened to Washington Irving last week is not so serious as at first reported. He remained unconscious only during a few moments after his fall, and now suffers only from the jar, having been able to correct his proof sheets, as usual, a day or two past. James Russell Lowell has been here, and looks all the better for his western trip. The National Magazine for May has some excellent wood cuts of statuary, an able article on "The Opium Trade in the East," and a timely one on Irving's last work; a "Sunbeam" is made to reveal its wonder-working power, and the "Pyramids" are described and pictured.... FIDELIUS
Boston Evening Transcript - April 24, 1855
Originating in correspondence of the Boston Evening Transcript, the anecdote of "fowl mania" and the merchant's gaffe at dinner with Washington Irving got to be a popular one in the spring of 1855. The "fowl mania" anecdote (including the reference to Melville's well-remembered story in the December 1853 issue of Harper's) was reprinted many times, for example:
  • Buffalo Daily Courier, April 27, 1855
Found on
  • Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, April 30, 1855
  • Troy Daily Whig, April 28, 1855 
  • Albany Argus, May 3, 1855
  • Brooklyn Evening Star, May 16, 1855
  • Lafayette [Indiana] Daily Journal, May 17, 1855
  • Vermont Phoenix [Brattleboro, Vermont], May 12, 1855
  • Louisville Daily Courier, May 22, 1855
  • Springfield [Massachusetts] Republican, May 25, 1855
  • Weekly Racine [Wisconsin] Advocate, June 13, 1855
Wolfert's Roost (1855) - William Vinson via AbeBooks
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