Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Huybertie Lansing Pruyn Hamlin (1873-1964) remembers Melville

Huybertje Pruyn
Huybertje Lansing Pruyn Hamlin
1900 miniature by Charlotte Burt Kirkham via Wikimedia Commons
"Roving Reporter" Cecil R. Roseberry (aka Tip Roseberry) worked the Melville beat for the Albany Times-Union. I found his 1952 story with the reminiscence of Mrs. Hamlin in the online archives of historic newspapers at Fulton History.

Transcribed below from the article titled "Mrs. Hamlin Knew Melville" by Tip Roseberry, published in the the Albany Times-Union on Thursday, April 17, 1952:
One of the few surviving people in the world who remember Melville in the flesh is Mrs. Charles S. Hamlin, of 352 State St., a remarkable woman who, in her eighties, can conjure up in sharp outline everything that ever happened to her. 
She was a girl of eight or nine: one of the Pruyn sisters, of the old Dutch aristocracy with which Melville also was connected—when she met the great man during one of his latter-day visits to Albany. The things that stuck in her memory were his heavy beard and the story he told her about the Boston Tea Party. 
MELVILLE, WHOSE brief day as a popular author had waxed and waned, and who was now living in obscurity in New York as a customs inspector, was a first cousin of Mr. Abraham Lansing (last of the Gansevoorts) and it was at her elegant home—where the White Tower hamburg stand now is on Washington Ave.—that Huybertie Pruyn (Mrs. Hamlin) had her only meeting with the genius who wrote “Moby-Dick.” 
“Mother and I were on our way home to Elk St. one day, walking down Washington, when mother decided to stop in and pay a call on Aunt Kitty Lansing.” (They called her that, although she was actually a distant cousin.) 
“The maid showed us into the east parlor, and there was this bearded man sitting next to Aunt Kitty. Mother exclaimed: ‘Why, Herman, I didn’t expect to see you.’ He greeted her as ‘Anna,’ and we joined them by the fire. 
“Uncle Abe Lansing was just pouring some madeira. When the glasses were around, Uncle Abe lifted his and proposed a toast: 'To Herman Melville’s next book’.”
Melville asked the little girl, “What are you studying at school?” and she replied, “Paul Revere’s Ride.” 
“That is very interesting,” Melville said. “If you come to my house in New York I will show you a bottle with some tea-leaves in it. The tea came from the Boston Tea Party. You see my grandfather, Thomas Melville, was one of the ‘Indians’ who dumped the tea. He wouldn’t tell my grandmother where he had been. But when she cleaned his clothes, she found tea-leaves in the pockets and cuffs. She put the tea in a bottle and kept it.”

Huybertie had no conception of who Melville was until they were walking home. “Then mother told me that Herman was a very curious character. She said: “He has written a great book, and now it is forgotten. I wonder if it ever will be revived’.”
Madeira Malvasia 1882 via vivino
Mrs. Huybertie Pruyn Hamlin was born in Albany on April 8, 1873, so 8 or 9 years after would place her reminiscence around 1881-1882. Melville's next published book was the 1888 volume of poetry and prose titled John Marr and other Sailors.
Huybertie Pruyn in 1879, with Aunt Kitty and Uncle Abe Lansing
Albany Evening News / Tuesday, June 15, 1937

Hershel Parker in the second volume of Herman Melville: A Biography, 1851-1891 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) at page 870 names Huybertie Pruyn as the author of An Albany Girlhood (posthumously published) and "an eyewitness" in July 1885 to the burial of Herman's sister Frances Priscilla Melville. The memorial page at Find A Grave has this interesting information about Huybertje Lansing Pruyn Hamlin (giving her birth year 1878--definitely an error for 1873):
Socialite, philanthropist and civic activist. Her first name is also sometimes spelled as "Huybertie". Her father died several months before she was born into a member of one of New York's most prominent families, the Pruyns (rhymes with "shines"). She was also a descendant of Woodbury Langdon, a Member of the Continental Congress. She was also related to many other prominent Albany-area families, including the Parkers, the Cornings, and the Lansings. In 1898 she married Charles Sumner Hamlin, the first Chairman of the Federal Reserve. She was also the author of an autobiographical work, "Memories of an Albany Girlhood" (also published as "An Albany Girlhood").
--Find A Grave - Huybertje Lansing Pruyn Hamlin
Albany Times-Union / Sunday, April 26, 1942

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