Monday, April 27, 2015

Gansevoort Melville in Richmond, Virginia--dining with Calhoun, Lamar, and Thomas Ritchie

J. C. Calhoun via NYPL Digital Collections

The developing story here is Thomas Ritchie, "Democratic editor of the Richmond Enquirer from 1804 to 1845, and of the Washington Daily Union from 1845 until 1851." As indicated in the Melvilliana post on Favorable Melville notices, old Ritchie's sons Thomas Ritchie, Jr. and William Foushee Ritchie succeeded their father in the editorship of the Richmond Enquirer. While I break to savor Carl R. Osthaus's chapter on The Editorial Career of Thomas Ritchie in Partisans of the Southern Press, go ahead and enjoy this item placing Gansevoort (with Ritchie, as evident from the New York Herald letter from "John Jones," also quoted below) in the company of John Caldwell Calhoun and General Lamar (Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar).

In March 1845 Calhoun was passing through Richmond on his way home to South Carolina, staying at the Exchange Hotel. While in Richmond he invited Gansevoort Melville and Lamar for dinner, a more private affair in lieu of the grand public dinner which he formally declined. Calhoun had just completed his year-long service as Secretary of State. Gansevoort's younger brother Herman was close to starting his first book, Typee (1846). In his third book Mardi (1849) Herman would lampoon Calhoun as the cadaverous politician Nulli. In Subversive Genealogy, Michael Paul Rogin finds in the pro-slavery politics of Calhoun a model for Ahab's monomania.

Image Credit: World of Edgar Allan Poe
Gansevoort's dinner with Ritchie, Calhoun, and Lamar at the Exchange Hotel in Richmond took place on Wednesday, March 12, 1845. From the Richmond Enquirer, March 17, 1845:


The distinguished and retiring statesman—“retiring from the field of his fame”—(as the first toast in his honor called him)—had a small but agreeable dinner with a few of his friends on Wednesday last, and declined the honor of a public dinner, as the following correspondence shows. There were at the table, as guests, General Lamar of Texas, Gansevoort Mellville, Esq., of New York, the eloquent and accomplished champion who distinguished himself at various points of the late campaign, &c, &c. Mr. Calhoun is rapidly improving in his health, and is returning from Washington with the most liberal feelings towards the present Administration. He left Richmond on Thursday, having been waited upon by several persons.  --Richmond [Virginia] Enquirer, Monday, March 17, 1845; found in the online Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank.

Portrait of General Mirabeau B. Lamar / Image Credit:
Texas State Library and Archives Commission
As noted in the Melvilliana post tall after all, Gansevoort's presence in Richmond is happily confirmed by correspondent "John Jones" in a letter to the editor of the New York Weekly Herald, dated March 13, 1845 and published March 15, 1845:
"Mr. Melville, the tall democratic spouter, par excellence, from your city, is also here, probably looking up political influence for some valuable appointment for services rendered. Should he be disappointed, it would be a pity, as he is pretty much of the opinion, I understand, that Mr. Polk could not have been elected had it not been for his disinterested exertions during the canvass—Nous verrons."
In the first part of his letter to the Herald editor, John Jones reveals a bit more about the dinner for Calhoun. The presiding "Napoleon of the press" is Thomas Ritchie, editor of the Richmond Enquirer:
What can I communicate, that can possibly interest the readers of the Herald, from this dull quarter of the globe, except mere matter of fact? I will attempt to give you a few items, by way of killing an hour.

First. Mr. Caloun created a little stir among his friends here, by staying over one day on his way South, which was taken advantage of by giving him a private and recherch√© dinner, at the Exchange, by about twenty of his most ardent friends, the Napoleon of the press in these “diggings” being invited to preside, with Mr. Calhoun on his right, and Gerneral Lamar (of Texas) on his left. Some excellent toasts and sentiments were given, and the party separated at an early hour, to attend a select party at R. G. Scott’s, where the evening was spent in the most convivial manner by a set of as choice spirits as can well be congregated together in this region.   
--New York Weekly Herald, March 15, 1845
Thomas Ritchie
via The Library of Virginia
It's unthinkable that Gansevoort did not make one of those eloquent toasts to Calhoun. Ooh that would be fun to find in a Richmond paper.

UPDATE: No toasts located so far, but I did find news of Calhoun's informal dinner with friends at the Exchange Hotel, published in the Richmond Enquirer on the day after:

Richmond Enquirer, March 13, 1845
William & Mary, Earl Gregg Swem Library, Special Collections Database lists two letters from Gansevoort in London to Thomas Ritchie, filed with the Ritchie-Harrison Papers. In Gansevoort Melville's 1846 London Journal, ed. Hershel Parker, Gansevoort mentions his writing to Ritchie on January 3, 1846. As he regularly did for friends and family, Gansevoort also sent newspapers to Ritchie in February and early March 1846. Parker correctly identifies Ritchie as editor of the Washington Union without noting Ritchie's ties to Richmond.

First American Edition of Mardi by Herman Melville
Owned by Thomas Ritchie (1778-1854), with his signature
19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop

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