Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Albany Library, 1828 Catalogue

Watts on the Mind
"While the Melvilles were living in Albany they had access not only to the personal library of Peter Gansevoort but also to books drawn in his name from the Albany Library, of which he was a member." --Merton M. Sealts, Pursuing Melville
Sealts also points out that Gansevoort Melville belonged to the Athenaeum--but without noting the organizational and physical connections between the Albany Library and Albany Athenaeum. Or Atheneum as they sometimes spell it. Already by 1833 the Albany Library, located in the Athenaeum buildings, was reported as having 8,000 volumes. The New York Annual Register listed the address of the Albany Library as
Athenaeum Buildings, No. 371 North Market street. 
The early Library/Athenaeum link is confirmed by the notice in the Albany Argus for March 26, 1830 in which librarian J. [for Jacob] Covenhoven acknowledges miscellaneous “Donations to the Albany Library and Athenaeum, during the year 1829." Among the works listed are unspecified issues or volumes of "The Critic, a weekly review of literature, fine arts, and the drama" donated by S. De Witt Bloodgood. There's something to check out another day: The Critic at HathiTrust, digitized from a volume at NYPL.

On the last day of April, 1830 (months before Herman Melville's family relocated to Albany under financial duress) Covenhoven announced in the Albany Evening Journal:
"THE ALBANY ATHENEUM & LIBRARY will this day be removed to the large and spacious hall directly above the present apartments and will be closed a few days, for the purpose of making the necessary arrangements."
OK then, here's my question. When Gansevoort in his 1834 Albany Journal talks about fetching two books from the "Atheneum Library" for a rainy day and night, does he not mean the Albany Library in the Athenaeum buildings? Let's dust off this old library catalog and see... Reginald Dalton definitely is listed in the 1828 Catalogue of the Albany Library. How about Grattan's Jacqueline of Holland? Not listed, because not published until 1831. Another volume Gansevoort mentions reading in 1834 is "Watts on the Improvement of the Mind." Listed in the 1828 Catalogue? Yes: "Watts on the Mind." Back then Albany boasted numerous libraries, not to mention bookshops and reading rooms, but two in the same building with Reginald Dalton and Watts on the Mind? Nah.

North Market street. The Athenaeum and Library were at 371, and the Melvilles made their first Albany home at 338 North Market (as Hershel Parker reports, V1.50). Same block, right? Sometime in 1834 the Melvilles moved to "a new three-story brick house at 3 Clinton Square, at Pearl Street" (Parker, V1.95). Gansevoort Melville's fur shop was on the south end at 364 South Market street.

According to the 1836 Gazetteer of the State of New York,
The Albany Library, established in 1792, kept at and connected with the Atheneum, contains near 9,000 volumes. The Atheneum was established in 1827:
Joel Munsell in the Annals of Albany, vol. 3 still counts 9,000 volumes in 1852--by which time the Albany Library had moved to the Albany Female Academy on North Pearl street. When? I wonder. Early 1837 or before, judging from this notice in the Albany Argus, March 17, 1837:
ALBANY LIBRARY.—Any persons having books or pamphlets from the Albany Library are requested to return them to the library in the Female Academy, without delay, as the library is being examined and undergoing some improvements and alterations.
A. F. Lansing
Image Credit: Hoxsie!
Before 1838, for sure. According to the 1838 Report of the Regents:
There are three separate and distinct libraries attached to the academy, one of 114 volumes, selected expressly for the pupils of the 6th or lowest department; one of 210 volumes, for the 4th and 5th, and one of 6,000 for the 1st, 2d and 3d departments. It is proper to remark, in relation to this last library, that only between 1,000 and 1,200 volumes belong exclusively to the academy; and that the balance constitute the Albany library,but most of the stockholders, during the past year, have transferred their respective shares to the trustees of this institution; and that while the privileges of those who still retain theirs, remain unimpaired, the academy received the whole benefit of the library, as fully as they could, did they own the whole stock. 
The teacher of composition occupies the library-room, and is ready at all times, to refer the pupils to appropriate authors to consult in connection with the subjects upon which they may from time to time write.

The importance of these libraries, in creating a taste for reading, as well as in forming a classical style of writing, is too obvious to require a single remark.
--Annual Report of the Regents
Which means that as students in the Albany Female Academy, Herman Melville's younger sisters--Augusta and maybe Catherine (Kate) and Frances, too--enjoyed ready access to the impressive collection of books in the Albany Library. Couldn't hurt that their uncle Peter Gansevoort was elected (re-elected?) one of the Trustees of the Albany Library, and listed as a member of the Board of Directors (Albany Argus, April 3, 1837). So in 1837-8 when Augusta Melville was writing those school compositions, she had great material resources and support, not only from her brother Gansevoort. Hey, the comp teacher was also librarian!

All that was to introduce this: the 1828 Catalogue of Books in the Albany Libraryavailable online courtesy of HathiTrust Digital Library.

Digitized by Google Books in August 2006 from the original volume in the New York Public Library.

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