Thursday, December 17, 2015

August 5, 1850 as remembered by Cornelius Mathews

Cornelius Mathews via Library of Congress
So Melville and fellow guests of the Fields dined with Mary Rowly O'Sullivan. In his 2000 book on Young America, Edward L. Widmer points out John Louis O'Sullivan's close ties to Hawthorne and also Stockbridge, Massachusetts where
"he formed lifelong friendships with Thomas Wilson Dorr and several Stockbridge natives, including the lawyer David Dudley Field and members of the Sedgwick clan."
-- Young America
And Widmer goes on to identify John's mother Mary Rowly O'Sullivan or "Madame O'Sullivan" as a previously unidentified companion at the dinner party in Stockbridge--after the adventure up Monument Mountain, before the trek through Icy Glen:
Another guest at Field’s dinner, never before noticed, completed the sense of convergence felt in Stockbridge that day. The guest, whom Cornelius Mathews described only as “a most lady-like and agreeable conversationalist, mother of a distinguished democratic reviewer,” was almost certainly O’Sullivan’s mother, the celebrated Madame O’Sullivan. Not only was she a long-term Stockbridge visitor, and close to the Sedgwicks, but her presence makes sense when the overall composition of the group is considered. For Field, Duyckinck, Mathews, and Hawthorne had a common bond in their Review experience, and Melville was no stranger to their machinations. 
--Edward L. Widmer, Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City
Brilliant! (Just for the record, Mathews's word as originally printed in the Literary World is the unusual form: "conversationist".) 

First serialized in The Literary World, the engaging three-part narrative of "Several Days in Berkshire" by Cornelius Mathews has recently been reprinted in Steven Olsen-Smith's valuable collection of 19th century biography, Melville in His Own Time. The transcription there of Part II (August 31, 1850) concerning "The Mountain Festival" of August 5, 1850 gives real names of participants within editorial brackets--for the most part helpfully. However, Melville in His Own Time does not reference Widmer's discovery about the "lady-like" presence of Mary Rowly O'Sullivan and her "agreeable" talk at the dinner table. Also host and hostess of the day are misidentified in one place as "John and Sarah Morewood" (page 46). Impossible, since the hikers have returned to "the Umbrage" for dinner, in Stockbridge. Sarah Morewood is Fairy Belt, but Host and Hostess here are still David Dudley Field II and his wife Harriet Davidson Field. (Confirmed by the narrator's bon voyage at the close, appropriate because the Field family were about to leave Stockbridge for Italy.)

David Dudley Field via Library of Congress

 "Humble Self" the correspondent (later "Behemoth") is Cornelius Mathews.
  • New Neptune = Herman Melville
  • Silver Pen = Evert A. Duyckinck
  • Town Wit  = Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • Mr. Noble Melancholy / Essayist = Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Fairy Belt = Sarah Morewood
  • Harry Gallant = Henry Dwight Sedgwick II
  • Mr. Greenfield / Boston publisher = James T. Fields
  • Greenfield's new wife = Eliza Willard Fields 
  • Host = David Dudley Field II
  • Hostess = Harriet Davidson Field
  • Fair Daughter = Jenny Field
  • Amiable invalid son of a collegian = ?
  • "a most lady-like and agreeable conversationist, mother of a distinguished democratic reviewer" [so, editor or notable contributor to the United States Democratic Review] = Mary Rowly O'Sullivan, mother of editor John Louis O'Sullivan, as shown by Edward L. Widmer in Young America
  • New York Lawyer with "Channing blood in him" = is this Henry Dwight Sedgwick II again? (Harry Gallant)
  • Celebrated military author = Joel Tyler Headley  
From The Literary World, August 31, 1850

(From an " Esteemed Correspondent.")

Destiny has appointed to all of us, in the course of our lives, a delay of five, ten, or fifteen minutes at a railway station; when we may rove about the platform, stroll through the waiting-rooms, contemplate the mystery of the shut-up ticket-hole, and dwell, with a sort of childish regard of wonder, on the silent ears, lingering on the track as if they belonged there, like houses in a row. Our destination from Pittsfield, remember, is to Stockbridge village, twelve miles down, and we are invited to a Feast of Quidnuncs, incidental to a visit to the Monument Mountain in that neighborhood. Loitering there, up and down and all around the premises, New Neptune, Silver Pen, and our Humble Self: a slight apparition presently appears with a glazed India-rubber bag in hand, another of our party, Mr. Town Wit.
We are in the cars, and with a hurrah to the neighborhood from the steam-whistle, we are away. Our stately inviter appears promptly at the other end, and conducts us at once, by horse-power, to his Umbrage in a hollow, in the skirts of Stockbridge, where we make acquaintance with a delightful lady, the mistress of the mansion, a fair daughter, and an amiable invalid son of a collegian. There are plenty of arm-chairs in the summer parlor, a bowery look-out, a sea of trees, in which the cottage seems to be swimming for dear life, a wonderful poodle, and just by way of a rehearsal, for the grand climb, we take a run to the top of Sacrifice Mount, not far off, where in the old time the Indians brought their sacrifices to the knife. 
On our return to the house we have the mountain party completed, with the addition of the charming sketcher of New England mystic life, Mr. Noble Melancholy, and, with a watchful eye on the fall crop, close at hand, his publisher, Mr. Greenfield, and the new wife, who is the violet of the season in Berkshire; a young gentleman also, a twig of a celebrated Stockbridge tree, Harry Gallant, is on horseback—and we set out in procession for the Mountain of the Monument, some three miles eastward. Passing, as we gallop along, the domicil of the late right-reverend Agrippa, formerly servant to that noted Polander, Kosciusko, we reach the foot of the mountain—of which we had, by the way, a chalky outline sketch, with its white cliffs, as we came along. Higher, higher up we go, stealing glances through the trees at the country underneath; rambling, scrambling, climbing, rhyming—puns flying off in every direction, like sparks among the bushes. 
Behold, now! the panorama spread out like a sea. At that height it occurs to us all, at once, that we have passed the previous parts of our lives in very small matters. What is Trade to us at that elevation! Business is referred to with disgust. Wall street and Washington (supposed to be of some importance down below) are mere alleys and dog-paths. Even the writing of Books and Poems is child's play—regarded from that watch-tower, so near up towards heaven. Somebody attempts a pun—we believe it's that rogue,Town Wit,— and is, righteously, near losing his foothold and tumbling straight down a thousand feet. As far as landsmen can, we have a glorious ocean-feeling, not diminished when a swift-sailing thunder cloud, like a black pirate-ship, goes scudding past directly alongside of us. New Neptune is certainly fancying himself among the whalers of the Pacific, for he perches himself astride a jutting rock,like a bowsprit, which is exceedingly painful to the feelings of Mr. Town Wit, who describes himself as epigastrically affected, and talks of the mountains as if they were so many thundering boluses. 
The tempest vindicates himself as superior to the mountains, and rising, spreads his cloudy wings, which he presently shakes upon us, and compels us to a retreat, which, honored as the harbor of two lovely women, shall be henceforth known as the Fairy Shelter. A couple of bottles are broached, we drink all round, and to the vast organ-bass of the rolling thunder, Humble Self reads Bryant's grand poem, dedicated to this very scene,—the Story of the Indian Girl, "a sad tradition of unhappy love." 
If silence and sighing are tributes of interest, the reader should have been well pleased with his endeavor. The storm had passed away, but there still lingered in the thoughts of the mountain-climbers a remembrance of the sad daughter who, in default of love, cast herself from this lonesome height, and perished on the rocks below. We walk about, in the new sun, upon the mountain top, as though we were the angels of the time, and as though these airy ridges were our natural promenade. We look on, to east and west, far, far away on either hand, and think meanly of our fellow creatures, the under-dwellers: the individual man on the peak is raised to a noble spirit, but man in general, occupying those little, paltry sheds and toy structures, is regarded with scorn,—he hardly rises to the dignity of contemptuous reference in the grand survey of hills, valleys, and wide-sweeping tracts of earth. But we must go back to that condition whether we will or no. Slowly descending a winding way, we seek out the little cairn or stone-heap which rises on the spot where the Indian maiden fell; a little way-side heap of stones, cast there by the tribes-people as they passed. Remembering Fairy Belt, who should never be forgotten, as never forgetting others, we pluck a brief memorial from the monument as a remembrancer of our visit; and with a cool gallop along the road, we are returned to the Umbrage. We will seat the company at the dinner table. 
Host and hostess at either end: right side from hostess, a most lady-like and agreeable conversationist, mother of a distinguished democratic reviewer; next, Noble Melancholy (as we name him), a delightful mystical essayist, a late "Letter" of whose is or would be a letter of introduction any man might be proud of presenting anywhere; the violet-bride, and next, her husband, a classical Boston publisher, whose name on a title-page is a pretty sure guarantee of the "better sort" of poetry. Thereabouts at the table a most companionable New York Lawyer, who has Channing blood in him to keep him from malpractice. The Host, rising like Babel in the confusion of tongues: Silver Pen, with whom the readers of the Literary World are particularly well acquainted: the fair daughter of the house; New Neptune (in our vocabulary), the sea-dog of our Berkshire homestead, whose tales—such is their wonderful growth—have reached to several ends of the earth; next to the Nautical, an earth-monster, a perfect Behemoth, the mention of whose name has before now driven three critics crazy and scared a number of small publishers out of a year's growth; a mighty shadow, whose name we dare not mention: next to him, sitting erect in his chair, bristling with eyes, collar, and ears attent, the Town Wit, whose clever verses and jeux d'esprit are on everybody's tongue. And now, with (or without) your leave, reader, we propose to shut the Dining-Room Doors. 
You are disappointed, we know—you would give the world to have an accurate account from so careful a pen as ours of what that picked company of wits and belles had to say to each other over the wine. But—we have sworn on oath—we have sealed a seal, never, never to divulge, no, never. We can only intimate, in the remotest way, that the Sea-Serpent and Mr. Payne were referred to; the Rochester Knockers not; that one of the gentlemen in company (we are not ashamed to connect this happy hypothesis with the name of Mr. Town Wit) gave it as his deliberate opinion and as the result of a most elaborate and searching scrutiny, that in less than twenty years it would be a common thing to grow in these United States men sixteen and seventeen feet high; and intellectual in proportion. There was no mention of molasses in the course of the dinner. Stephen Girard was not introduced personally as a topic; somebody or other spoke of a remarkable bullock at Great Barrington. The condition of American Poetry may or may not have been dwelt upon. But we are going a little too far; the oath—the oath! 
It's a long session, but dinner is at last concluded—a fillip having been imparted to the close of it, by the sudden appearance of a celebrated military author—when, military author and all, tumbling out into the road, we make three miles away for a mysterious defile—where you can have iced punches in their natural state—in the middle of August: the Icy Glen, by name. A dark and slippery region, with oozing rocks for stairways, and rotten logs for bridges; such face of melancholy we never in all our mortal life witnessed, as did our Boston Bibliopole put on when he saw his two prize-producers— now under way with a volume each—the Essayist and Town Wit, engage in the neck-endangering progress through the treacherous gully, dripping with anxiety and mournfully repining at his own fat, which kept him from sallying after. "Ten per cent more to your authors on your next book, and you'll have less fat to complain of," was quietly suggested to the struggling and perspiring book-man. We are out again upon the open air; try a pass or two with some scythes lying in the meadow —the Umbrage receives us again—coffee, conversation, Fay the Poodle taking an active part on his hind legs, and giving his opinion of the music in a jargonic howl equal to the most learned professor. 
Good-bye, friends, all round. Friends at the Umbrage, farewell—God speed you safely over the ocean in your new path of travel, and return you wisely and safely to the dear harborage of Stockbridge! Shake hands all round. Our kind and liberal entertainer sees us to the cars—away! 
And here be remembered that friendly Conklin, who, taking pity on three roving knights of the quill, did gently pause his train at the bridge, saving us there a foot-sore tramp at midnight. Be all conductors like him: and may every Berkshire Festival-Day, like this of ours, be provided with an Evening Star, like that, to rise upon the train and cheer us just when he is wanted. But there's another small bottle of Berkshire to be discussed—for which see our next!  --The Literary World No. 187, August 31, 1850
For a modern edition of "Several Days in Berkshire" in all three parts, get Melville in His Own Time, edited by Steven Olsen-Smith. Online, Google Books has digitized the 1850 volume of the Literary World which alas! lacks the September 7, 1850 number containing the third and final part,
  • Part III of "Several Days in Berkshire," The Literary World No. 188 - September 7, 1850
For the sake of completeness, here are images of the elusive Part III, scanned from authentic pages of the 1850 Literary World in the Melvilliana library of odd volumes:

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