Friday, February 19, 2016

Gansevoort Melville in Columbus, Ohio: "I prefer to speak into the full blaze of beauty's light."

Herman Melville's big brother Gansevoort had a gift for bestowing memorable nicknames. Gansevoort re-baptized James K. Polk as "Young Hickory." In Ohio, his improvised gallantry left Columbus divorcee Adaline M. Gill with the new nickname, "Beauty's Light."

Found on

From the time of the divorce the heroine set out to catch a new husband. She dressed better than ever, and looked more beautiful, but the taint of suspicion was so strong upon her that she failed. She still paraded the streets, and was still the observed of all observers. In the Presidential campaign of 1844, when General Cass and Thomas L. Hamer made speeches in Columbus, they were accompanied by a young and flowery speaker, Gansevoort Melville, of New York City. The stand for the speakers was behind the long, low range of public offices fronting on High street. Behind that part of the public offices occupied by the State Library in the second story was a nearly flat roof, on which a large number of both sexes had chairs, immediately fronting the speakers. Toward the close of Cass and Hamer’s speeches Adaline got a seat. While Melville was closing the exercises the sun was shining on the face of the speaker. A proposition was made to draw the sail-cloth that covered the top of the stand forward, to keep the sun out of the eyes of the speaker. To this Melville objected. “I prefer,” he said, “to speak into the full blaze of beauty’s light,” pointing as he spoke, to the roof of the building, where Adaline, solitary and alone, sat on a chair, tilted up against the wall of the Library building. Instantly every eye was turned, and, as the crowd took in the situation, it fairly roared with delight, and, amid hisses and jeers, Adaline made her exit through the window of the Library. After that episode she went by the nickname of “Beauty’s Light.” --"Old-Time Politics," Letter to the Editor signed "F." in the Cincinnati Enquirer, November 7, 1881
As told by "F.," the back-story is the young lady's locally celebrated manipulation of Ohio legislators to secure a divorce from Daniel Parish on her terms, taking full advantage of a now archaic (by 1881) provision for granting legislative divorces. Gansevoort of course was just being his noble self.

Maybe Gansevoort had in mind the line from Coleridge's Genevieve, quoted years before by Herman in Fragments from a Writing Desk No. 2:
In beauty's light you glide along....

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