Tuesday, March 31, 2015

William Brown Maclay on the Harpers' rejection of Typee

From the New York Sunday Times tribute to John Howard Payne by "W. B. M." as reprinted in Watson's Art Journal Vol. 7, No. 13 (Jul. 20, 1867), pp. 194-197 at 195.
Melville’s “Typee” was offered to Harper, who declined it. The book was published by another publishing house, and with such marked success that when “Omoo,” the next work of Melville, was written, it was accepted by the Harpers without a line of it being read, and at the author’s own price.  --Watson's Art Journal at JSTOR
So who is this "W. B. M.," and how does he know the inside story of how the Harper brothers rejected the Typee manuscript in 1845?

From here W. B. M. looks like none other than U. S. Congressman William Brown Maclay (1812-1882), described as "an old and personal friend of Mr. Payne" in Gabriel Harrison's 1885 biography, John Howard Payne.

William Brown Maclay
William Brown Maclay

Gabriel Harrison prints a letter in which Maclay recalls being "first introduced to Mr. Payne in Washington, many years before his death," in perfect agreement with the testimony of "W. B. M." in the Sunday Times piece, as reprinted in the first part of the article in Watson's Art Journal, July 13, 1867:
"I became acquainted with Payne in Washington, many years before his death, which occurred at Tunis, in the summer of 1852...."
As a New York lawyer and prominent Democrat, Maclay must have known Herman's older brother Gansevoort Melville. Confirmed! after a quick trip to the online newspaper archives at Fulton History. Maclay and Gansevoort Melville are both named as participants in the "great and enthusastic meeting" held in New York City on June 14, 1843 in support of the Irish Repeal movement. Summarizing fuller accounts in New York City newspapers The Plebian and Herald, the Troy, NY Budget names the distinguished "W. B. Maclay, M. C." as one of the honorary Vice Presidents. After the featured speech by John McKeon, other Repealers addressed the crowd including Gansevoort Melville, Thomas N. Carr and a "Mr. Barbour" (Daily Troy Budget, Saturday afternoon, June 17, 1843).

The June 15, 1843 Evening Post report of the "Great Repeal Meeting" gives the text of the "Adresss of the Repealers of New York to the People of France" delivered by Major Auguste Davezac. Another New York paper, the New York Express, gave Major Davezac's prefatory remarks, and also this report of what Herman Melville's brother Gansevoort said at the Great Repeal Meeting:
MR. GANSEVOORT MELVILLE, (whose first debut as a public orator was in favor of Dorr the Rhode Island runaway,) said a few words, but it was too dark on the stage to permit the reporter to follow him very accurately. He did not say much that was new; but alluded to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, General Montgomery, and other Irishmen who had benefitted America, in support of the position that we, too, as Americans, ought to sustain Ireland in this her extremity. He spoke also of the scorn, and indignation, and contempt, he felt for England and her Irish policy; said that America had men, money, and, if necessary, martyrs—that it was God’s cause, not man’s and it could not be lost. And he closed with a scrap of poetry, and the words, “Faugh-a ballagh,” (which, we believe, means “Clear the way!”). 
--N.Y. Express, as reprinted in the Richmond [Virginia] Whig, June 20, 1843; found in the online Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank.
As for the Typee scoop, Maclay could have heard it from Frederick Saunders, who contributed a reminiscence for Orrin B. Judd's 1884 Maclay memorial. Saunders is the previously known contemporary source for the Harpers' rejecting Typee, as Hershel Parker explains in Herman Melville: A Biography, V1. 376.  In the Appendix to Evenings with the Sacred Poets, Saunders had published Maclay's verses on "the name of Mary." Writing from the Astor Library on December 7, 1883 to William B. Maclay's surviving twin brother Archibald Maclay, MD, Saunders recalled his bonding with William over books and authors:
This allusion to your lamented brother, recalls many pleasant memories and recollections of his genial and courteous character. It was his wont for many years, occasionally to visit the alcoves of the Astor Library; and thus I had many opportunities of casual intercourse with him; for, as he had an innate love of books, we often had brief intervals of literary gossip together. He was fond of cracking historic nuts, and solving scientific problems, as well as other literary research, and consequently he was no stranger to "Notes and Queries," and similar works. His acquaintance, not only with books, but with their writers, was wide and comprehensive, and for a score of years, he was an habitué of the Library, and a very appreciative one, as well as an occasional contributor to its accumulative literary stores. I am glad that you have thus permitted me to bear my humble tribute to the memory of his amiable and symmetrical character,--for I shall ever remember him, as evincing the most uniform courtesy and kindliness of deportment, coupled with a sincere but unostentatious love of letters. I beg to subscribe myself very sincerely yours,

Frederick Saunders.
The part in Maclay's 1867 version about the Harpers' acceptance of Omoo sight unseen also agrees with the "Recollections" of Frederick Saunders--which you can see in Parker's biography V1.470.

The 1884 Maclay memorial by Orrin B. Judd is catalogued in the Open Library and accessible in the Internet Archive.

William Brown Maclay in the National Cyclopaedia of American Biography.

Maclay and the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Congressman Maclay came from a politically powerful family and was successfully elected to Congress to represent New York City three times during the 1840's. Maclay lived near the navy yard and took care to closely associate and find jobs (Maclay was a Baptist) for his districts Irish Catholic constituents. "When a person comes to me for employment I write a note suggesting his name to the master workmen..." Maclay later would recollect that he "very carefully selected some ten or twelve masters" that they remained in office during Democratic administrations and were subsequently removed when another party took office. Maclay was defeated by Whig Party candidate Walter Underhill in the election of 1848. -- Genealogy Trails



  1. Here is an engraving of a young Maclay: