Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Lost and Found Department: Fulton History has New York Morning Express with 1849 riot coverage, including "The Three Macbeths"

At the time of the Astor Place riots The New York Express featured a regular column of "Dramatic and Musical" news and reviews. The "Dramatic and Musical" editor witnessed Macready's disrupted Monday night performance which he reviewed under the heading "The Three Macbeths" (Tuesday, May 8, 1849):
New York Morning Express / May 8, 1849
The "Three Macbeths" item and other reports about the 1849 Astor Place riots are available at Fulton History:
Tuesday, May 8, 1849: New York NY Morning Express 1849-1850 - 0407
Wednesday, May 9, 1849: New York NY Morning Express 1849-1850 - 0411
Thursday, May 10, 1849: New York NY Morning Express 1849-1850 - 0415
Friday, May 11, 1849: New York NY Morning Express 1849-1850 - 0419
Saturday, May 12, 1849: New York NY Morning Express 1849-1850 - 0423
On Wednesday, May 9, 1849 the Morning Express printed the open letter to Macready that Herman Melville signed with other leading citizens, assuring the actor of a better reception if he would give another performance.
New York Morning Express / May 9, 1849
New York Morning Express / May 9, 1849
On Thursday, May 10, 1849 the Express printed Macready's reply of hesitant acceptance. It's great to have these images available for historical and biographical research. And the Fulton History cache in one place confirms our idea in the previous melvilliana post about "lost" files of the New York Express. In the microfilmed copy scanned by Fulton History, most of the report on Friday, May 10. 1849, the day after the deadly riot of Thursday night, has been scissored out of the newspaper. Fortunately, however, the Norwich Evening Courier and very likely other newspapers reprinted the same report from one or another editions of the New York Express. Saturday coverage includes a heartfelt defense of soldiers who "endured a stoning with the patience of the Apostles, before they fired."

Getting back to Percy Hammond (1873-1936). The story of the Astor Place riot in Hammond's 1933 article is taken verbatim from two New York Morning Express articles: 1) "The Three Macbeths" column of May 8, 1849; and 2) the lengthy report published on Friday, May 11, 1849. Hammond explicitly presented the narrative as an old newspaper report by his "ancient friend." So far then his claim rings true, except for the unacknowledged conflation of events and accounts from different days.

Conceivably Hammond as a young drama critic (in Chicago, at the Tribune?), say in the late 1890's or very early 1900's, knew and possibly worked with the former "Dramatic and Musical" critic of the New York Express. In 1899 Percy Hammond was 26; a drama critic who was that age in 1849 would have been 76 in 1899, 86 in 1909. So it's possible that Hammond knew an eyewitness to the Astor Place riots.

The trickiest and doubtfulest part of Hammond's story is still the thing we lack, any mention of Melville together with Washington Irving, Henry J. Raymond (then assistant editor of the Courier and Enquirer) and Richard Grant White.
We regret that space forbids further comment on this melancholy episode. However, since Dame Rumor hath it that the bloody and unwonted demonstration was a deliberately contrived insult to a visiting scholar and gentleman, we cannot forbear to say that it is a deplorable shame to New York City and the United States and a humiliation to those who love the works of the Bard of Avon. 
As Washington Irving, Henry J. Raymond, Richard Grant White, Herman Melville and your correspondent walked with Mr. Macready to his lodgings last night, he said:
“In escaping from this country, which has been endeared to me by long and strong attachments, I shall not do you the injustice of associating the American character with the ill-deeds of persons unhappily to be found in every large community. I shall form no hasty and inconsiderate judgements from the unprovoked indignities offered me tonight, and shall remain honored and grateful because of the appreciation and friendship of true Americans.”  --Philadelphia Inquirer, May 7, 1933; found at Fulton History.
Two things, after reflection. One is, in Hammond's reconstruction this section with the Melville mention appears out of chronological order. Although the passage as placed by Hammond concludes the story of the later Thursday riot, it seems to reflect an earlier perspective and concerns after the disrupted Monday performance of May 7, 1849, BEFORE Macready's Thursday performance and the ensuing violence. Macready's quoted words are adapted from his reply to Irving and co-signers, published in the Morning Express on Thursday, the day of the repeat performance.

Another thing is, similar language about the "bloody and unwonted demonstration" was used in eyewitness reporting by Henry J. Raymond in his newspaper, the New York Courier and Enquirer.
We have neither room, time nor disposition now,—fresh as we are from these bloody and unwonted scenes,— to comment upon them as we feel, or as they deserve. We cannot, however, forbear from saying that we do not agree with those who may be inclined to say that Mr. Macready, after the reception he met on Monday night, should not have attempted to appear again. If he had abandoned his engagement and the country then, it would have been because a New York mob had forbidden him to remain. The whole world would have been justified in saying, that the laws of New York could not protect a man in the exercise of his lawful calling,—that they were powerless, in presence of an organized mob—and that an attempt to enforce them, under such circumstances, dare not be made by the authorities to whom their execution had been entrusted.  --New York Courier & Enquirer, as reprinted under the heading "Spirit of the Press" in the New York Morning Express, May 12, 1849
Possibly then the original of Hammond's reference to Melville with Irving, Raymond, and White is to be found there, in the Courier and Enquirer. Richard Grant White in those years also contributed "musical, dramatic, and art criticisms" (Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography) for the New York Courier and Enquirer. So the association in Hammond's piece of Henry J. Raymond and Richard Grant White is a believable one, probably not the result of random name-dropping from the list of Macready's petitioners. And the New York Express still is implicated in Hammond's 1933 use of two different articles, the first one from the "Dramatic and Musical" column.

Related melvilliana post:

No comments:

Post a Comment