Saturday, August 23, 2014

Melville's "friendly critic" at the Springfield Republican, as rediscovered by Jay Leyda

Josiah Gilbert Holland (1816-1881)
Biographical Encyclopedia of Massachusetts via Wikimedia Commons
Let's don't forget about Jay Leyda's 1954 survey of pro-Melville notices and reviews in the Springfield Republican. Leyda published his Springfield Republican findings in "Another Friendly Critic for Melville" in the New England Quarterly, Vol. 27 (June 1954): 243-249.

Contemporary Reviews at p80 has the favorable notice of the revised edition of Typee in the Holland-era Republican from July 7, 1849, but lacks any citation of the earlier and "perfunctory" Omoo review that Leyda found in the May 8, 1847 Republican, before the announcement of Holland's arrival.

Gary Scarnhorst's "Sheaf of Uncollected Excerpts" in Melville Society Extracts 75 includes an item from the Springfield Republican (May 28, 1853) about the birth of Melville's third child and first daughter, Elizabeth ("Bessie," born May 22, 1853). Scharnhorst incorrectly identifies the newborn as Malcolm, but Leyda had it right when he introduced the same item:
[W]hen the birth notices included a line on a new daughter for the Melvilles, a joshing but not unfriendly item appeared in the same issue:
   By reference to our natal department, it will be seen that Herman Melville, author of "Omoo and Typee," "Pierre, or the Ambiguities," &c., has just issued a new work, which will doubtless be considered more original than any of his former ones."  --Another Friendly Critic p246.
Weirdly enough, Leyda apparently missed what became the next and last item on Scharnhorst's list in Extracts 75, also from the friendly Springfield Republican (June 11, 1853):
"Herman Melville has gone to New York to superintend the issue of a new work."
That "new work" did not appear in 1853, evidently because Melville was for some reason "prevented from printing" it, according to his 24 November 1853 letter to Harper & Brothers. Hershel Parker logically identified Melville's rejected 1853 book with the "Isle of the Cross" manuscript revealed, as Parker was the first to discover, in a letter to Melville's sister Augusta from his cousin Priscilla. Pointing out room for reasonable doubt, Basem L. Ra'ad introduced textual evidence for associating the Isle of the Cross project (presumably fruits of Melville's work on the Agatha story) with the tale of Hunilla the "Chola Widow" on one of the Galapagos Islands. Melville's story of Hunilla on an island with a cross was first published as part of "The Encantadas, Or Enchanted Isles" in the April 1854 issue of Putnam's magazine. In a previous attempt to sort all this out, enchantingly preserved to this hour at Moby-Dick™ (Wolf, wo bist du?) I volunteered my non-peer-reviewed two cents which briefly re-stated is this:

We don't now know for a certainty what "new work" Melville took to New York in June 1853 but was unable to publish then. We do know Melville's November 1853 letter to Harper & Brothers offers yet another book, about tortoise hunting. What if that book, the unfinished "The Tortoise-Hunters," contained the essence of "Isle of the Cross" along with other stuff that afterwards turned up in The Encantadas? In that case the other work, the one Melville was "prevented from printing" in June 1853, could have been something else, maybe even something unknown and unrecorded in the surviving archives--possibly one of the contemplated works for which he wanted "fifty fast-writing youths" in December 1850, or one related to the "silly thoughts and wayward speculations" he confessed to being preoccupied with in September 1851.

Here I might as well direct attention to two of the more popular posts at Melvilliana, one remarking the relatively early date at which Melville began acquiring source-material for The Encantadas, and another on the real-life Hunilla.

Whew! Alright, end of digression. So as Leyda explained way back when, the friendly critic of the Springfield Republican was associate editor J. G. Holland. 

Folder 13 in the Jay Leyda Collection, Melville Society Archive apparently has one offprint at least of the New England Quarterly article--and who knows what else:
9: Folder 13
Leyda, “Another Friendly Critic for Melville” 1954   (9 items)


  1. And if we wish to put together the greatest "What if" story in American literature, we can also note that Josiah Gilbert Holland and his wife were long-time personal friends of Emily Dickinson. A separate volume of Holland-Dickinson letters was published some years before the Johnson edition of the complete Dickinson letters appeared.

    So what would have happened if Holland had introduced Emily Dickinson to Herman Melville? Would "the gentle thoughts of the feminine air" have combined with "the troubled, murderous thinkings of the masculine sea" to form a new heaven and a new earth?


    1. Bravo! Now that you mention it, Leyda was looking at the Springfield Republican for his Dickinson research. He found the Melville items by accident.

      University of Colorado Boulder has a letter from Emily Dickinson in the very cool Holland Collection of Literary Letters, accessible online: