Thursday, February 16, 2017

Gansevoort Melville as Broadway exquisite

View of Broadway via New York Public Library Digital Collections
From the Louisville Courier Journal, July 19, 1845:
GANSEVOORT MELVILLE.--The appointment of this Broadway exquisite and pink of modern Democracy, as the Secretary of Legation near her Britannic Majesty, does not meet with the approbation of the more respectable portion of the Democratic Press. The New York Evening Post thus notices the appointment:
ANOTHER APPOINTMENT.--The Union of Tuesday, makes the following announcement:
"We understand that Mr. Gansevoort Melville, of New York, is going out to London as Secretary of the Legation. It is not yet decided whether Mr. Melville will go with Mr. McLane on the 16th of July, or on the next steamer. The appointment was offered to him without solicitation for the office."
We think this a bad appointment. The person selected is scarcely qualified for the office, either by his abilities or his character.
What is a Broadway exquisite?
As in Paris, a great deal of New York life is spent out of doors. During summer, the oppressive heat drives people into the open air, particularly in the cool of the evening; and during winter they are tempted out to enjoy the pleasures of sleighing. At the close of a summer afternoon, Broadway, particularly between the Battery and the Park, is crowded with promenaders of both sexes, generally dressed in the newest cuts, and in the most showy manner; for the New Yorkers take their fashions direct from Paris, in which they come much nearer the Parisians than we do. It is impossible to meet with a more finished coxcomb than a Broadway exquisite, or a "Broadway swell," which is the designation attached to him on the spot. Whilst multitudes are promenading to and fro, there are generally groups of strangers, either seated in comfortable armchairs, disposed in dozens on the wide pavement, in front of the hotels, or standing upon the steps leading into them, picking their teeth, to indicate to the passers by that they have just risen from a champagne dinner.  --Alexander Mackay, The Western World
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  1. So, they're whales.

    Like fashionables, they are for ever on the move in leisurely search of variety. You meet them on the Line in time for the full flower of the Equatorial feeding season, having just returned, perhaps, from spending the summer in the Northern seas, and so cheating summer of all unpleasant weariness and warmth. By the time they have lounged up and down the promenade of the Equator awhile, they start for the Oriental waters in anticipation of the cool season there, and so evade the other excessive temperature of the year.

    But what is a "pink"?

    1. pink of Democracy, meaning the prime example, finest specimen of rabble-rouser.

    2. I'm standing next to an OED at the moment, and definition 2.c.(in one of the many entries) for "pink" is "an exquisite [!], a smart person, one of the elite." And in def. 3. we have the example, "'Pink night', the rendezvous of the fashionable exclusives."

      So, maybe not whales, but merchant ships:

      Whereas, some merchant ships crossing each other's wake in the mid-Atlantic, will oftentimes pass on without so much as a single word of recognition, mutually cutting each other on the high seas, like a brace of dandies in Broadway; and all the time indulging, perhaps, in finical criticism upon each other's rig.

    3. Aha, good. And now I find "pink of modern Democracy" is recycled trash-talk from the 1840 campaign. The Nashville Republican Banner on June 30, 1840 reprinted a story from the St Louis Republican about how an old veteran for Harrison shows up a young "pink of modern democracy." The Democratic "pink" is described as "One of those band-box raised chaps, a fellow whose hands were as white and soft as a newly made kid glove" whose characteristic occupation was "prating of democracy and Van Burenism."

    4. Right, so "pink of democracy" is an oxymoronic slur, like "limousine liberal" or "billionaire populist" (or maybe like M-D's "bumpkin dandy").