Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fidelius on Melville and "the fowl mania"

Here's another mention of Herman Melville by "Fidelius," a New York correspondent of the Boston Evening Transcript. From the "Second Edition" of the Boston Evening Transcript, April 24, 1855; found in the online archives of Historical Newspapers at Genealogy Bank.
[Correspondence of the Transcript]
NEW YORK, April 23d, 1855.

Dear Transcript: Several of the principal hotels have raised their prices within a few days; and the discourse about New York expensiveness is revived. The sober fact is, that there is no city in the world where so much money is unsatisfactorily spent as here. I heard a gentleman fresh from Paris, say, the other day, that a parlor and bedroom, for a fortnight, at the Astor, cost him as much as four times the same amount of accommodation for his family at Maurice's. Strange that in a country where there is an abundance of space, an ample field to produce provisions, and few local monopolies, it costs so much to live in a most unsatisfactory manner!

Willis was in town a few days ago, with little trace of invalidism about him,--so much for keeping up a good heart, living in the country, and avoiding drugs!

At a dinner party last week, the conversation turned upon the fowl mania, recently developed in this country; one gentleman referred to the popular engravings of Shangai monstrosities, another to Burnham's book on the hen-fever, and a third to Melville's story in Harper, of "Cock-a-doodle;" "yes," observed another, better versed in cotton than literature, "the thing seems to be getting into books fast; I saw one advertised the other day, called 'Wolfert's Roost,' another Shanghai work, I suppose." The best of the joke was that Irving was at the table, and within ear-shot.

You will be glad to know that the accident which happened to Washington Irving last week is not so serious as at first reported. He remained unconscious only during a few moments after his fall, and now suffers only from the jar, having been able to correct his proof sheets, as usual, a day or two past. James Russell Lowell has been here, and looks all the better for his western trip. The National Magazine for May has some excellent wood cuts of statuary, an able article on "The Opium Trade in the East," and a timely one on Irving's last work; a "Sunbeam" is made to reveal its wonder-working power, and the "Pyramids" are described and pictured.... FIDELIUS
Boston Evening Transcript - April 24, 1855
Originating in correspondence of the Boston Evening Transcript, the anecdote of "fowl mania" and the merchant's gaffe at dinner with Washington Irving got to be a popular one in the spring of 1855. The "fowl mania" anecdote (including the reference to Melville's well-remembered story in the December 1853 issue of Harper's) was reprinted many times, for example:
  • Buffalo Daily Courier, April 27, 1855
Found on
  • Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, April 30, 1855
  • Troy Daily Whig, April 28, 1855 
  • Albany Argus, May 3, 1855
  • Brooklyn Evening Star, May 16, 1855
  • Lafayette [Indiana] Daily Journal, May 17, 1855
  • Vermont Phoenix [Brattleboro, Vermont], May 12, 1855
  • Louisville Daily Courier, May 22, 1855
  • Springfield [Massachusetts] Republican, May 25, 1855
  • Weekly Racine [Wisconsin] Advocate, June 13, 1855
Wolfert's Roost (1855) - William Vinson via AbeBooks
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