Tuesday, January 5, 2016

J. E. A. Smith's projected Melville biography

Not the 1891 newspaper memorial of Melville the "Great Pittsfield Author," but a never-completed book. As discussed in The Early Lives of Melville by Merton M. Sealts, Jr. (pp. 38-9), J. E. A. "Uncle Joe" Smith intended to write Herman Melville's life and had consulted about the project with Herman's widow Elizabeth Shaw Melville. Unfortunately, as Elizabeth realized, Smith himself was then in poor health:
He is quite advanced in years and much broken physically, though he does not admit itand I fear the undertaking will be too much for him (always seeming to have some literary work in hand)but let him take his own wayas he is so desirous to do it 
--letter to Arthur Stedman, quoted in Sealts, Early Lives of Melville, 39
After Smith's death in 1896, as Sealts also reports, Elizabeth Shaw Melville edited Smith's Evening Journal articles and superintended their republication in the 1897 pamphlet Sketch of Herman Melville.

From the article in the Springfield, Massachusetts Republican (December 15, 1895) headed “Good Skating in Berkshire” by "Our Special Correspondent" and dated "PITTSFIELD, Saturday, December 14":
In view of the fact that Harper Bros of New York have recently brought out an edition of the complete works of Herman Melville, it is interesting to know that Historian J. E. A. Smith has in preparation a life of the well-known novelist, which will probably appear next spring. It was back in the fall of ’91 that the Evening Journal serially published a biographical sketch of Melville from the pen of Mr. Smith, who called his subject “A Great Pittsfield Author.” Melville and Berkshire county were intimate friends, and the story of their acquaintance will form an interesting chapter in the forthcoming volume. For the rest, there will be an appreciative summing up of his life and work. Illustrations will be few but characteristic, and will include a view of the kitchen, or living room, as it really was, of Melville’s Berkshire home. No one is more fitted than Mr. Smith to tell the story, for his life-long acquaintance with Berkshire’s spirit and Berkshire men makes him eminently the man to interpret Berkshire’s past for the benefit and entertainment of Berkshire’s present.  --Springfield Republican, Sunday, December 15, 1895
The picture of Melville's "kitchen, or living room" at Arrowhead must be the one published a few years later to illustrate the article "Unveiling a Great Genius" by Mrs. Harriette M. Plunkett (Springfield Republican, Sunday, July 1, 1900). Plunkett's theme there is Hawthorne's "Great Genius," as unveiled by Melville. Sealts in the notes to Early Lives (p. 248) states that the kitchen/living room photo was made originally in 1870 by C. Seaver, Jr. and professionally copied by Rockwood. Herman's brother Allan is the one who paid Seaver to make the 1870 photograph, as explained by Hershel Parker in Herman Melville: A Biography, 2.707.

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