Thursday, February 18, 2016

Glimpse of "tall, very tall" Gansevoort Melville in March 1845

First fruits of a new subscription to another reference to the impressive height of Gansevoort Melville, Herman's older brother. This glimpse of Gansevoort as office-seeker in 1845 offers a rare physical description that confirms his being the tall man that Hershel Parker describes so well in Herman Melville: A Biography. Takes one to know one? 

As eventually settled (after a false start or two) in the popular melvilliana post on Gansevoort Melville's Height, and the sequel on Gansevoort as tall democratic spouter, slighting references by political opponents to Gansevoort as a "small man" refer to alleged unimportance, baseness, littleness of mind or spirit--not his physical stature. Writing on March 20, 1845 the Washington correspondent of the Baltimore Patriot described Gansevoort Melville as
"a tall, very tall, genteel, well-enough-looking young man, with a large nose and sandy whiskers, and quite a lady’s gallant..."
Yes he did, the Patriot correspondent also credited Gansevoort with a prominent schnoz. And "sandy" may have accurately registered Gansevoort's, what? reddish sideburns? but "sandy whiskers" was also another way of  saying "dandy" after the Whigs stuck Martin Van Buren with the nickname "Sweet Sandy Whiskers." Rumor was, Gansevoort the dandified Democratic orator had overreached in Washington by unreasonably demanding "a full foreign mission" as the most fitting reward for helping to elect the new president:
... Oh, if you could but know of the tricks, manoeuvres and log-rolling that have been going on here to obtain places, you would say great are the ways, windings, twistings and turnings of the “progressive democracy.” Men are hired to come on here from New York, if not from other places, to electioneer for their employers, and furnished with large sums of money to give parties, dinners, wine suppers, &c. &c. I would give to you names that would astonish you in some regards—in others, not. Ask Postmaster Graham—ask Prosper M. Wetmore—ask the famous Jonathan D. Stevenson—ask Gansevoort Melville—ask them what they know on the subject. 
By the way, Gansevoort, who is a tall, very tall, genteel, well-enough-looking young man, with a large nose and sandy whiskers, and quite a lady’s gallant, absolutely asks—what think you?—a full foreign mission!—And this for the flippant speeches he made in New York, and for going all the way to Tennessee to recite them over several times in that State! He is very poor, and may get a tolerable consulship or clerkship. That would do, Gansevoort; don’t look too high! 
Old Major Davezac is here, still unprovided for. He wants a Charge des Affair-ship, but will have to content himself with something of less note. He did far more in the campaign than Melville, however. He ought to be immortalized for the inimitable manner in which he repeated Gen. Jackson’s argument, in favor of the admission of Texas, from Old Hickory’s own mouth, to wit: that God made the Geography and Man made the Constitution of the country, and therefore we ought to support the former in preference to the latter! 
A friend of mine paid a social and political visit to the President this morning. He says the President talked as if he felt that he had made two or three appointments rather hastily—expressed his earnest wish to do right—could not help appointing Wetmore to the place he fills, for Marcy urged it—wanted time to look over and examine the recommendations and claims of applicants—would do this after the adjournment of the Senate—and above all things would appoint no one whom he should find had been intriguing here and log-rolling. His object would be to do right according to the best lights before him.  --Carolina Watchman [Salisbury, North Carolina], April 5, 1845; reprinting Washington correspondence of the Baltimore Patriot dated March 20, 1845
Responding to the same report, another Whig paper, the Nashville Tennessean Republican Banner delighted in the dandy figure:
GANSEVOORT MELVILLE.—This gentleman, who came all the way from New York to Tennessee last summer “to bring us straight,” was at the last accounts still hanging about Washington. His modesty, we believe, is proverbial, and he is giving an additional example of it, by only demanding “a full foreign mission for his services.” If Mr. Polk wishes to send abroad a “perfect pink” of the “young Democracie” of New York, Gansevoort Melville is the man. His very name is aristocratic, and savors of the Children of the Abbey, Pelham, and some of Mrs. Gore’s novels. Seriously we think that Mr. Melville ought to be satisfied with something less than a full mission.  --Nashville Republican Banner, April 4, 1845
That summer, when Gansevoort's appointment as Secretary of Legation in London was announced, southern Whigs again picked up on the dandy slur from earlier newspaper reports. The Louisville Daily Courier (July 19, 1845) tacked this on to the widely-circulated New York Evening Post view of Gansevoort's selection by Polk as "a bad appointment":
GANSEVOORT MELVILLE.—The appointment of this Broadway exquisite and pink of modern Democracy, does not meet with the approbation of the more respectable portion of the Democratic Press....
To the same effect, and evidently without any personal knowledge of Gansevoort, the North Carolina Star (July 30, 1845) called him "more remarkable as "an exquisite" of the first water than for intellectual superiority."

Earlier and closer to home, The Brooklyn Evening Star had acknowledged the "full foreign mission" rumor while confining its physical description to a nice notice of Gansevoort's "smiling face":
Mr. Gansevoort Melville left the Capital on Wednesday, for New-York. He wore a smiling face on his departure, from which the disciples of Lavater inferred that he had got something worth having, though not, perhaps, a “full foreign mission.” --Brooklyn Evening Star, Friday, March 28, 1845.
 Related melvilliana posts:

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