Sunday, November 30, 2014

Allan Melvill's New French Goods Store

Image Credit: Tea in a Teacup
In early October 1818 Allan Melvill advertised the latest in "fashionable French goods" for sale at his new store on Pearl Street. From the New York Evening Post:


No. 123 Pearl St. (up stairs) corner of Sloat-lane.
ALLAN MELVILL has imported by the late
arrivals from Havre, 60 cases choice and
fashionable French goods, selected by himself in
France expressly for this market; viz.
Florences, velvets, extra fine crapes and
Tulle laces.
Plain and pearl edged heavy lustring ribbons.
Soft satin and fancy garnitures do.
Rich raw silk, in imitation of real Cashmere
Embroider'd muslin bands, caps sad spensers
Superb embroidered robes for ladies and children
Linen cambrics and handkerchiefs
A large and elegant assortment of laces, footings
and edgings
Mecklin laces and black and white lace veils
Superior Courtray linens, lawns and sheetings
Habit and extra kid gloves
Silk hose; ostrich and fancy feathers
Flowers and wreaths
Ball dresses and trimmings
Rich ornamented combs, plush trimmings
Morocco ridicules with steel chains
Broad lustring ribbons for sashes
And a variety of other new, fancy and staple
articles, direct from Paris.
What in the world are Morocco ridicules? Aha, a ridicule is a reticule, a lady's purse.
1. (Clothing & Fashion) (in the 18th and 19th centuries) a woman's small bag or purse, usually in the form of a pouch with a drawstring and made of net, beading, brocade, etc.
--The Free Dictionary
Reticule / French / early 19th century
Image Credit:
Allan Melvill also promoted his new business establishment with a slightly different ad in the Albany Argus:

Albany Argus, October 27, 1818
At the time Allan and Maria Melvill had two young children, Gansevoort (b. December 6, 1815) and Helen (b. August 4, 1817). Herman their second son was born as everybody knows on August 1, 1819.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

From our legal department: about Gansevoort Melville's autograph on the old Common Pleas Roll

New York, NY about 1842 / Image Credit: AES Online
An 1897 article in the New York Sun lists the name of Herman Melville's older brother Gansevoort among "noteworthy autographs" entered on "sundry loose foolscap sheets containing signatures of the attorneys who had been specially admitted to the bar in the Common Pleas between the years 1823 and 1846." Retired court clerk Nathaniel Jarvis, Jr. is credited with having the loose sheets bound in one volume, eventually to be placed (the writer of the article speculates) with the"Bar Institute."

OK, we need our lawyer now. Would that be the New York City Bar Association, or something like it? Does this volume of the old Common Pleas Roll now exist? Where? Maybe it's in the New York City Department of Records. Historic records including some Common Pleas archives are held at the Division of Old Records at 31 Chambers Street.

The lengthy 1897 tally of "noteworthy" names on the old Common Pleas Roll includes (for 1842, between Aaron Vanderpoel, Sr. and Richard B. Kimball):
"Gansevoort Melville, honored in Tammany Hall."
Wonderful and surprising, really, to find Gansevoort remembered this late as a Tammany orator.

One early and illustrious signature on the Common Pleas roll is "the cramped autograph of Charles Fenno Hoffman, who soon gave up law for literature, and wrote lyrics and songs." Other friends of Herman Melville with autographs entered in the roll are Cornelius Mathews (1837), Theodore E. Tomlinson (remembered as "the young man eloquent of the bar"), and George L. Duyckinck (1846).

The 1897 New York Sun article titled THE COMMON PLEAS ROLL is available via Fulton History:

The same old roll was described by James Wilton Brooks in his 1896  History of the Court of Common Pleas of the City and County of New York:
The original roll of the Court from 1821 to 1848, during which period every aspirant to the bar of the City of New York had first to be admitted to practice in the Common Pleas, shows almost every New York name which was prominent at that period, whether in the legal, social or business world. In those days every would-be lawyer had to pass several examinations before he was admitted to full practice.
He was first admitted to the Common Pleas as attorney at law. After three years of active practice he applied for admittance as counsellor at law to the Supreme Court. He had also to pass a special and supposedly equally thorough examination in the Court of Chancery.  (28-29)
Brooks in his Preface mentions having contributed the May 19, 1895 report for the NY Sun on the "End of the Common Pleas," so possibly he also wrote the 1897 Sun article that mentions Gansevoort Melville. Then again, the Sun writer's considerable knowledge of long-gone lawyers suggests an older writer or accomplice--perhaps A. Oakey Hall.

As reported also in the 1897 NY Sun article, Brooks's 1896 History notes that besides promising to uphold the Constitution, attorneys had to take the anti-duelling oath and swear never to participate “directly or indirectly in any duel.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

J. E. A. Smith's Biographical Sketch of Herman Melville (1891)

1902 postcard with Tennyson's Lady Clara Vere de Vere
Marcus Stone / Image Credit: TuckDB Postcards


was in 1885 when he was for some days a guest at the Homestead Inn, the Pomeroy homestead on East street, which was for a short time converted into a fashionable hotel. While there, he did not show even the changes which time commonly works on men in the number of years which had elapsed. He did not evince the slightest aversion to society but appeared to enjoy the hearty welcome which it gave him; time having enhanced instead of diminishing the local pride in and regard for him. Perhaps his manner was a little more quiet than in the old time; but in general society it had always been quiet. It had eminently that repose which stamps the caste of Vere de Vere, although it covered no heartlessness, and savored nothing of arrogance. The Melvilles were never forgetful of the patrician character of their family, while they never manifested their consciousness of it to the outer world, except by their scrupulous obedience to that grand law which is grandly condensed in the axiom, noblesse oblige, which imperatively demands of all who claim high rank that their acts should always be noble, never ignoble; grandly assuming that each individual recognizes what constitutes nobility of action. --J. E. A. Smith's 1891 Biographical Sketch
According to Smith, Melville's quiet manner resembled the aristocratic "caste of Vere de Vere," but without the heartlessness of Tennyson's cruel and lofty Lady Clara. Smith's sketch was originally published in the Pittsfield Evening Journal. Digitized volume from Harvard is at the Hathi Trust Digital Library...

For edited text and background, get The Early Lives of Melville by Merton M. Sealts, Jr.