Monday, April 7, 2014

Herman Melville, seven of his works, his wife, and and both lawyer brothers remembered in California, 1854

Here are two items from the short-lived Daily Placer Times and Transcript of San Francisco, California. Both are available in the Newspaper Archives at GenealogyBank. Adding a few new errors along the way, the Times and Transcript took some delight in correcting the comically inept reporting of a rival paper.

From the Daily Placer Times and Transcript, Thursday, November 16, 1854:
THE RIP VAN WINKLE OF THE PRESS—The News, last evening treated its readers with the following astounding announcement:
Among the arrivals by the Golden Gate, we notice that of S. Ross Browne, of Washington City, well known to literateurs as the author of “Typee, or a Voyage Thither,” “The Howadji, or Travels in Syria and Egypt,” “Two Years before the Mast,” etc., and will be recollected by old Californians as the official reporter of the Convention that drafted the existing constitution of our State. For the past two years Mr. B. has been engaged as chief clerk in one of the Departments at Washington. Of the object of his visit here at the present time we are not advised, but take the liberty to express the wish that he may be induced to give to the reading public his impressions of California as she presents herself to the tourist in 1854.
The reliability of the news we had considered unimpeachable, but this out Herods all newsmonger’s gossip we ever met with. Mr. J. Ross Browne did not arrive by the Golden Gate, nor is he the author of any of the works mentioned above, and the object of his presence is well known. Mr. Browne has been in the country since July last, in his capacity of Government Fiscal Agent, examining the accounts of civil, naval, military, land and Indian office officials on the Pacific coast, and as such has visited Oregon, and nearly all the posts in our State. Mr. J. Ross Browne is well and favorably known as “Yusuf” in the literary world, and stands in the same niche of popular estimation as Mr. Herman Melville, the author of “Typee,” Mr. Curtis, the “Howardje,” and the Rev. Mr. Dana, the author of “Two Years Before the Mast.”
However gratifying it may be to Mr. Browne to be classed as the source of such distinguished literary effort, we feel justified from his proverbial modesty, in setting our neighbor correct on this point. Mr. J. Ross Browne arrived in the Goltah from a visit to the Indian Reserve at Tejou, with the affairs of which we are gratified to learn he felt much pleased. That Mr. Browne will give the world his impressions of the American possessions on the Pacific we feel a certainty, and to none more able could such a task be committed.
Below is the follow up article, also from the Daily Placer Times and Transcript, Friday, November 17, 1854:
RIP VAN WINKLE IN SEARCH OF INFORMATION.—To relieve the “intense anxiety” expressed by the News, in regard to our remarks on the distinguished literary honors it bestowed on Mr. J. Ross Browne, and the queries it levels at us, we would state that Herman Melville is the bona fide baptismal and paternal appellation of a distinguished son of the State of New York, he having been born in Duchess county, of a staid and respectable Knickerbocker family. He is, we believe, the second of three brothers, all of whom have become men of note. Actuated by a roving disposition, after his collegiate education, he ran away from home and made a voyage in a whaler round the world, and on his return gave to the reading public his impressions of travel in “Typee” which, from its peculiar style, was accepted by the literary world as an ideal composition presented under an assumed name. His eldest brother, Gansevoort Melville, died in London whilst filling the position of Secretary of the U. S. Legation, under the Hon. Louis McClane, to which place he was appointed by President Tyler. His remaining brother is a lawyer of considerable repute as a chamber practitioner, whose “shingle” we have seen on the fan-light of No. 14 Wall street, New York. With both gentlemen we are happy to be acquainted. So far as regards Melville being a “nom de plume,” it is nowhere disputed that Mr. H. M. did write Typee, Omoo, Mardi, Redburn, White-Jacket and Bartleby the Scrivener; and moreover he is the author of the admired serial novel now in course of publication in Putnam’s Monthly, entitled “Israel Potter, or Fifty Years of Exile,” a national tale of the early days of our confederacy, written in an entirely different style from any of his previous works. Mr. M. now resides on his farm at Berkshire, Massachusetts, with his family, his wife having been a Boston belle, in company with G. P. R. James, Rev. H. Ward Beecher, and like kindred coterie, as neighbors.
Mr. Curtis, the “Howadji,” is the author of those widely read satire known as the “Potiphar Papers,” and as such the public were made acquainted with his physiognomy by means of an admirably executed steel engraving, which adorned a late number of Putnam’s Monthly. He is also a newspaper man, being one of the New York Tribune’s host of contributors. Mr. Richard H. Dana, Jr., the author of “Two Years before the Mast,” is a lawyer of Boston, who has rendered himself conspicuous in the late slave case in that city.
Having satisfied the News as to the gentleman, we need scarcely remark, that the error in spelling “Howadji,” and the prefixture of Rev. for Rich., were merely typographical errors, and would not, with others, have appeared but for an incidental omission of proof reading.
About the typos, maybe so--but President Polk appointed Gansevoort Melville, not Tyler. Also the writer neglects to mention Herman Melville's younger brother Thomas, and does not know that Herman was born in New York City. And wait, what happened to Moby-Dick and Pierre?

Still, the November 17th item provides a friendly and knowing treatment--and you gotta love the rare mention of Bartleby, the Scrivener by somebody who remembered 14 Wall Street.

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