Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Melville's "Memoranda" with instructions for publishing his 1860 volume Poems in Minnigerode, Leyda, Metcalf, et al.

In The Melville Log for the year 1860, Jay Leyda transcribed the manuscript copy that Elizabeth Melville made of Herman Melville's notes for his brother Allan regarding the expected publication of Herman's "first volume of verses." Melville's detailed instructions (headed "Memoranda for Allan / concerning the publication of my verses.") show how earnestly he worked at getting his completed manuscript published, and how he assumed, wrongly, that some publisher would want his debut in poetry.

Jay Leyda, The Melville Log, vol. 2 p616
New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1951

As Leyda indicates in the compact index of Sources in the back of volume 2, the manuscript with Elizabeth Melville's transcript of Herman Melville's 1860 notes for Allan is held by NYPL-D which means the Duyckinck family papers now in the Manuscripts and Archives Division at the New York Public Library.

Why the Duyckinck papers is because Elizabeth Melville conscientiously relayed her husband's instructions in a letter to Herman's friend Evert Duyckinck.

Leyda's typo "nomical" in "nomical arrangement" is corrected to "nominal" in Eleanor Melville Metcalf's 1953 Cycle and Epicycle.  Metcalf gives the whole list of Herman's instructions about his anticipated book of poems in the fuller context of Elizabeth Melville's letter from Pittsfield to Duyckinck, written soon after Herman sailed for San Francisco.

In her letter to Duyckinck, Elizabeth Melville made a point of adding
"an item which Herman omitted in his hasteand that is, that the book should be plainly boundthat is, not over-giltand to "blue and gold" I know he has a decided aversionHe may have mentioned it in his letter to you from Boston."
Metcalf also gives the last bit of Herman Melville's notes which Leyda left out:
"... Pray therefore, don't laugh at my Mem. but give heed to them, and so oblige   Your brother   HermanMay 22, 1860."  --Cycle and Epicycle
Ticknor and Fields
Blue and Gold series via ebay

Long before Leyda and Metcalf published Herman Melville's instructions to Allan about his first book of poetry, Meade Minnigerode gave them to the world in the 1922 volume Some Personal Letters of Herman Melville. Like anybody who reads them naturally would be, Minnigerode was struck by the poet's remarkable confidence:
"Melville does not seem to have had any doubts concerning the publication of the manuscript."  
Like Eleanor Melville Metcalf after him, Minnigerode also supplied the context from Elizabeth Melville's letter to Evert Duyckinck:
Pittsfield, June 1, 1860. 
Mr. Duycinck, My dear Sir,—  
On Monday or Tuesday of next week I shall forward to you by Express, the manuscript of which Herman wrote you, and with this I enclose a copy of the memoranda which he jotted down for Allan, according to his request. 
To this also should have been added an item which Herman omitted in his haste, and that is, that the book should be plainly bound—that is, not over-gilt, and to 'blue and gold' I know he has a decided aversion. He may have mentioned it in his letters to you from Boston. . . . Yours etc., E. S. Melville.
Minnigerode was the first to transcribe and publish Melville's notes dated May 22, 1860:
Memoranda for Allan 
Concerning the publication of my verses. 
1. Don't stand on terms much with the publisher—half-profits after expenses are paid will content me—not that I expect much profits—but that will be a fair nominal arrangement. They should also give me 1 doz. copies of the book. 
2. Don't have the Harpers. I should like the Appletons or Scribner. But Duycinck's advice will be good here. 
3. The sooner the thing is printed and published the better. The "season" will make little or no difference, I fancy, in this case. 
4. After printing don't let the book hang back—but publish and have done. 
5. For God's sake don't have By the Author of "Typee," "Piddledee," etc., on the title-page. 
6. Let the title-page be simply 
Herman Melville.
7. Don't have any clap-trap announcements—and "sensation" puffs—nor any extracts published previous to publication of the book. Have a decent publisher, in short. 
8. Don't take any measures, or make inquiries as to expediency of an English edition simultaneous with the American—as in case of "Confidence Man." 
9. In the M.S.S. each piece is on a page by itself, however small the piece. This was done merely for convenience in the final classification, and should be no guide for the printer. Of course in printing two or more pieces will sometimes appear on the same page—according to length of pieces etc. You understand.  
10. The poems are divided into books as you will see, but the divisions are not called books—they are only numbered. Thus it is in the M.S.S. and should be the same in print. There should be a page with the number between every division, 
11. Anything not perfectly plain in the M.S.S. can be referred to Lizzie, also have the M.S.S. returned to her after printing. 
12. Lizzie should by all means see the printed sheets before being bound, in order to detect any gross errors consequent upon misconstruing the M.S.S. 
These are the thoughts which hurriedly occur to me at this moment. Pardon the abruptness of their expression but time is precious—of all human events, perhaps the publication of a first volume of verses is the most insignificant; but though a matter of no moment to the world, it is still of some concern to the author—as these Mem. show. Pray, therefore, don't laugh at my Mem. but give heed to them, and so oblige 
Your brother 
--Some Personal Letters of Herman Melville

Although appreciative of Clarel and generally defensive of Melville as poet in the face of "the total oblivion into which his poetry has fallen," Raymond Weaver fails to mention and apparently does not know (before Meade Minnigerode published Elizabeth Melville's transcription of Herman's careful instructions for Allan) about Melville's 1860 book of poems. After Minnigerode, most biographers at least mention the rejected 1860 poems, as the following excerpts show.

Lewis Mumford:
The book of poetry was never published in its original form. Mr. Meade Minnigerode conjectures that the manuscript was that of Clarel; but Melville's concern, in his memoranda for Allan, that each piece should be printed on a page by itself, however small the piece, shows, apart from anything else, that it could not have been Clarel; and when Melville told his brother, two years later, that he had disposed of his "doggerel" to a trunkmaker, who took the whole lot off his hands at ten cents the pound, one must infer that he himself had become dissatisfied with the bulk of his early work, and destroyed most of it, salvaging a few pieces, like the verse to the Captain of the Meteor, for his later volumes. In the first flush of experiment, however, Melville's poetry pleased him: the form of verse gave compactness to his thoughts, and the writing of it did not inflict that long continuous drain on his vitality that the larger prose pieces called for. Melville would pace the quarter-deck with his brother, reciting his verses in the moonlight: the joy of creation, even minor creation, could still stir him up, and no doubt the cadences of the moving ship, heaving, falling, rolling, added to the pleasure of the words themselves. --Mumford's 1929 Herman Melville-1962 ed. p197
Dismissive of Melville's poetry as a kind of demented hobby "when the full years of his creative life were past," Willard Thorp nevertheless rehearses in some detail the story of the 1860 poems that had been known since Minnigerode:
Mrs. Melville wrote to her mother in 1859 [misdated; see N-N Published Poems p448]: "Herman has taken to writing poetry. You need not tell any one, for you know how such things get around." Possibly she wished to prepare the minds of the Chief Justice of Massachusetts and his wife for the shock of discovering their son-in-law's newest perversity. Whatever this remark was supposed to convey, it is a fact that Mrs. Melville undertook to see through the press the volume he had prepared, when, in June, 1860, he hurriedly sailed for San Francisco on his brother's ship, the Meteor. Melville suggests that she was the one who chiefly desired the book's publication. In writing to Evert Duyckinck, on the point of sailing, he said: "As my wife has interested herself a good deal in this matter, and in fact seems to know more about it than I do—at least about the merits of the performance—I must therefore refer you to her." In her own letters to Duyckinck about the book, she rejoices in having, as she says, "my own prejudice in its favor confirmed by someone in whose appreciation we can feel confidence." If the book were to be withdrawn by Herman in case it did not find a publisher at once, it would greatly disappoint her. 
But the book found no publisher. We do not even know for certain what these first poems of Melville's were. They cannot be the long poem Clarel, as Minnigerode supposed for the "Memoranda for Allan concerning the publication of my verses" which Melville sent his brother, prove them to have been a collection of short poems. There is reason to suppose the book contained some if not all of that little group of poems which were printed in Timoleon (1891) under the caption "Fruit of Travel Long Ago." The themes treated in these poems can all be traced to impressions of the 1856 1857 journey and many of them are foreshadowed in the diary which he kept at that time. 
Melville had hoped to make a little money with his book of verses. He regarded them highly enough to enjoin Allan very strictly to see to their careful printing and assured him that though the publication of an author's first volume of verses is a most insignificant matter to the world, to him it is "still of some concern." If he was sadly disappointed by the failure of his book to find a hospitable publisher, he showed it only in the half-rueful, half-jocular way in which he wrote his brother Tom (May 25, 1862) that the trunk-maker had taken the whole lot of his doggerel off his hands at ten cents the pound. If Tom were not "such a devil of a ways off" he would send him a trunk lined with stanzas as a presentation copy. 
This depreciatory tone became habitual with him when referring to his poetry....
--Introduction to Thorp's Representative Selections
F. O. Matthiessen:
Throughout the last half of his life, over a span of thirty-five years, Melville, who, in Moby Dick, had reached levels of imaginative writing unsurpassed by any other American, wrote little more prose. When he had finished The Confidence Man in 1856, he had produced ten books in less than a dozen years and had had his bellyful of trying unsuccessfully to gain a comprehending audience and to support himself by his pen. But he had not lost his interest in self-expression, and, turning to verse, he had, by the spring of 1860, a volume ready for publication.  --Herman Melville: Selected Poems
Newton Arvin:
In the year or two before the war he appears to have devoted himself to his new interest steadily enough to have, at the end, a small manuscript volume of poems for Lizzie to circulate among publishers during his absence from home--for in the summer of 1860 he had made a voyage round the Horn to San Francisco. Nothing came of this new literary venture at the time, but the manuscript probably consisted of the poems based on his European and Near Eastern wanderings which he later included in Timoleon as "Fruit of Travel Long Ago." 
The failure of these poems to find a publisher had not disheartened Melville enough to silence him, and the excitement produced in him by the Civil War found vent in a whole new group of poems, for the most part better ones, for which he did find a publisher; in 1866 Harper's brought out Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War.  --Newton Arvin's Herman Melville p261
Leon Howard:
Of more serious concern to Herman, however, was the problem of his poems. He had written enough for a volume, and although he realized that "of all human events, perhaps, the publication of a first voume of verse is the most insignificant," he was anxious to get them in print and out of his mind. He and Elizabeth devoted most of the first two or three weeks following his decision [to sail for SF on the Meteor with his brother Tom] to putting them in order. They had to be copied, corrected, and arranged; and some instructions had to be drawn up for Allan, who was commissioned to find a publisher, and for Evert Duyckinck, who was asked to read them over in advance of publication. Their arrangement was in numbered divisions, and he hoped that they might be brought out by Appleton or Scribner rather than the Harpers....
--Leon Howard 266-7
In quoting Melville's seeming indifference to so "insignificant" an event, Howard left out the crucial part where Melville insisted that nonetheless, "it is still of some concern to the author...."

Edwin Haviland Miller reported briefly on the 1860 manuscript volume including its eventual rejection:
On June 19, while Melville was at sea, Charles Scribner returned the manuscript. Although the poems were "excellent," he wrote, "I doubt whether they would more than pay expenses."  --Miller's Melville p299
Herman Melville's "Memoranda for Allan" are also published in the 1960 Davis-Gilman edition of The Letters of Herman Melville edited by Merrell R. Davis and William H. Gilman (p198); and the 1993 Northwestern-Newberry edition by Lynn Horth of Melville's Correspondence (pp343-5). The N-N headnote unfortunately lacks any reference to the June 1, 1860 letter to Evert Duyckinck in which Elizabeth Melville mentions enclosing a copy of Herman's memorandum.

Hershel Parker's four pages in Vol. 2 of his Melville biography (423-6) on the planned 1860 book of poems include a page of transcription giving the same instructions from Herman Melville that Minnigerode (1922), Leyda (1951) and Metcalf (1953) had also published from Elizabeth Melville's copy among the Duyckinck papers. Parker of course has more on Melville's rejected 1860 book in Melville: The Making of the Poet.

Laurie Robertson-Lorant discusses the 1860 book at some length, with welcome emphasis on the role and perspective of Elizabeth ("Lizzie") Melville:
“Planning to be away an entire year, Melville spent the month before Tom’s ship, the Meteor, was scheduled to sail trying to get a volume of poems ready for publication....
Sharing the secret of his writing poetry and preparation of the volume brought Herman and Lizzie closer for a time. He looked to her for help because she had quietly supported his turn to poetry instead of joining the chorus urging him to quit writing. Treating Lizzie as a partner instead of sniping at her fulfilled the earliest wish she had shared with her mother as a married woman, and it sowed the seeds of the intimacy that would blossom in the last decades of their lives, after terrible turmoil and tragedy burned away the cankers that had attacked the roots of their married life.
Assessing one probable motive Battle-Pieces, Laurie Robertson-Lorant again brings up the 1860 book, reasoning as follows:
“although the volume of poetry he had left with Lizzie before his 1860 cruise had not been accepted for publication, he thought a book of poems about the war was certain to appeal to readers. --Robertson-Lorant's Melville: A Biography p486.
Andrew Delbanco verbally follows follows Arvin on the size ("small manuscript") and contents of the projected book. Amazingly contemptuous of Melville as poet, Delbanco nevertheless did not fail to assess the 1860 poems:
Exactly when Melville started writing verse is unknown, but by the spring of 1860 he had accumulated enough poems to fill a small manuscript; and while in New York waiting to board the Meteor, he asked his brother Allan to place it with a publisher.... 
... The proposed book never reached print. A few of its contents survive because they were among several poems Melville gathered many years later under the rubric “Fruit of Travel Long Ago” in a privately printed volume, Timoleon, etc., that appeared in an edition of twenty-five copies just before his death. --Delbanco's Melville: His World and Work
So Meade Minnigerode's 1922 collection of Some Personal Letters of Herman Melville is digitized by Google and available online in the Hathi Trust Digital Library. Now for expert handling of the projected and rejected 1860 volume Poems by Herman Melville, by all means consult the Historical Note by Hershel Parker in the Northwestern-Newberry edition of Melville's Published Poems.
The Meteor, painting c. 1852
Image Credit: Australian National Maritime Collection

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  1. But the truly dramatic historical discovery is buried in the details. We have learned from these notes that Melville was the author of a previously unknown work called "Piddledee"!


    1. Ha! like "Peedee" "Hullabaloo" & "Pog-Dog" named in the 1849 Journal: