Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Gansevoort Melville, 1846 memorial by William E. Cramer

Zelica and Azim from Moore's Lalla Rookh
Drawing by John Tenniel via The University of Adelaide

William Edward Cramer was editor of the Albany Argus in 1843-6. His father was Polk's friend John Cramer of Waterford in Saratoga County. Transcribed below, the complete text of Cramer's published tribute to the memory of Herman Melville's older brother Gansvoort. Respecting Gansvoort Melville's affection for poetry and romance, Cramer chose a line from Moore's Lalla Rookh to convey something of the grief felt by his surviving family members and friends.

From the Washington Union, June 13, 1846:


Though much has already been said by the press on the death of Gansevoort Melville, yet there are incidents connected with his life and character deeply interesting to the young men of our country, which deserve more than a passing notice.

Gansevoort Melville, though young in years, with the disadvantages of a self-education, had already acquired an eminence and a reputation given to few young men of our republic.

As an orator he was peculiarly gifted. His imagination was rich and brilliant, but strong and just, combined with that extraordinary command of language which gave peculiar power to his burning thoughts and earnest manner. His heart was warm and noble, as an orator's should be, to move the masses. He was also endowed with every external attribute to give effect to the fascinations of his mind and manner. His voice was expressive, and yet its deep tones could be distinctly heard by thousands. His figure was majestic—some might say, colossal; his eye, large and black, with the glance of a Webster, and with a head and forehead whereon was stamped, by the "seal of Nature," the elements of a great and commanding character. His mind and heart and personal appearance were alike calculated to inspire that pride and admiration which spring from the conviction that he would be worthy of the highest destiny which could be awarded to an American.

In unison with the warmth of his feelings, he was enthusiastic in his attachment to democratic principles. During the presidential canvass of 1844 this spirit induced him to undertake a tour to the southwestern States, to attend the great convention at Nashville. How admirably he acquitted himself there, in the presence of such orators as Cass, and Douglass, Hise and Marshall, and before the assembled thousands of Tennessee and Alabama, we have the evidence of a statesman who, for twenty years in the House of Representatives, has heard the first orators of our country, and who now occupies an honorable position in the cabinet of the President. At that time he wrote, "Your friend Melville made one of the best speeches I ever heard." His return through Kentucky, Ohio, and western New York, gave him an opportunity to measure his strength with some of the ablest men of our country. The large numbers of people which gathered to hear him wherever he went, was an evidence that he had already a foothold among the masses of which an older statesman might be proud.

Soon after the inauguration of President Polk, he was tendered by the President the secretaryship of the legation to England in a manner so frank and kind, that he was induced to accept it, against the advice of some of his trusted friends. That he acquitted himself in his honorable mission in a manner worthy of himself and his country, is one of the noblest consolations to his mourning friends. But it was beautiful to see Mr. Melville in the family of his mother and sisters. He was not loved, but rather idolized, with a love "passing that of earth," and he reciprocated that attachment with an intensity few "can wot of."

From an intimacy of many years, we may say that an affectionate son, a most devoted brother, a warm and true-hearted friend, an earnest politician, with a sagacity worthy of riper years, a gifted orator, a nature chivalrous and lofty in its impulses, an ambition noble in its objects, loving power and place, but his country more, with every attribute of external interest, constituted the person and character of Gansevoort Melville.

When such men die in the spring-time of life, we may mourn their loss, not alone for their friends and family, whose anguish is
"Past all wounds the quivering flesh can bear,"
but for their country. In this case the affliction is the deeper, as Gansevoort Melville gave every promise of a career of elevated usefulness, honorable distinction, and devoted patriotism, such as a republic needs from her sons.

Waterford, Saratoga co., N. Y.
Found on
Orator "Hise" is Elijah Hise of Kentucky. Later Walter N. Haldeman said Hise had been making the same speech "on every occasion for the last ten or fifteen years" (Louisville Daily Courier, January 23, 1851). The former congressman and current member of James Polk's Cabinet who praised Gansevoort Melville's Nashville oration as "one of the best speeches I ever heard" must be Cave Johnson, the only ex-Representative among three former Congressmen in Polk's cabinet.

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