Saturday, January 11, 2014

George Catlin's Letters in the NY Commercial Advertiser, 1832-1837


So George Catlin's celebrated Indian Gallery debuted in Herman Melville's back yard on May 15, 1837.  Admission 50 cents, children half price.  Ok, just about debuted.  In Wild West Shows Paul Reddin mentions Utica first.

From Albany Catlin traveled with his exhibit to Troy, whose citizens were no less prompt than their Albany neighbors in honoring Catlin with printed testimonials of thanks.

In Removals Lucy Maddox ventures the reasonable guess that Melville read Catlin's 1841 book, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians before writing Typee.  Now we know a bit more, that Melville possibly could have seen Catlin's Indian exhibit at Stanwix Hall and heard Catlin's conversational lecture, just like "Z" did.

Update:  That admission price of fifty cents might well have seemed prohibitive to all the Melvilles, considering Gansevoort's bankruptcy and the family financial crisis then underway (see Hershel Parker's biography, V1.113).  But the imposing Stanwix Hall was built and owned by Gansevoorts.  Uncle Peter had his law office there at No. 5--where Herman's younger brother Allan was sent in early June. You would think Allan and Herman and Gansevoort could manage to see Catlin's Indians if they wanted to.  And how could they not want to?

Another thing to keep in mind, about those Letters of Catlin.  Maddox cites the 1841 London edition of the book, but Catlin's letters had already appeared in the pages of the New York Commercial Advertiser. And of course other newspapers reprinted Catlin's fascinating contributions from the prairie.

The Smithsonian has an incomplete and hard to read collection of photostatic copies online, dating from July 24, 1832 to September 30, 1837. Has any editor or intrepid sub-sub collected and compared all of Catlin's original letters with the book version?

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