Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Forgotten or well known?

Famously forgotten, perhaps, except by the best informed literati and most discerning readers.
"Mr. Herman Melville, the well known author of popular seafaring stories, died at his home in New York Sunday night."  --Boston Journal, September 29, 1891
New York Tribune - October 3, 1891
via GenealogyBank

"The New-York Times" of yesterday, in an appreciative editorial concerning the late Herman Melville, remarks that only one newspaper (presumably "The Times") contained an obituary account of him, and this was but of three or four lines. Had "The Times" consulted the files of The Tribune, it would have found a much longer obituary of Mr. Melville on the morning after his death, and in Thursday's issue it might have noted a half column review of his life and work. A perusal of this latter article might, perhaps, have prevented the further dissemination of a misleading report that Mr. Melville had been forgotten by the contemporary literary guild. He was invited, among the very first, to join in the founding of the democratic little Authors' Club that flourishes in this city. This occurred in 1882, but Mr. Melville always has been an object of interest among literary people here, who have regretted his extreme self-isolation. --New York Tribune, October 3, 1891.
Here's the obituary of Herman Melville in the New York Tribune, the one printed "on the morning after his death":
New York Tribune - September 29, 1891
And here's the longer funeral notice by Arthur Stedman:

New York Tribune - October 1, 1891
via Library of Congress, Chronicling America

The funeral of the late Herman Melville was held at the family residence in Twenty-eighth-st. yesterday afternoon, the Rev. Theodore C. Williams, of All Souls' Church, delivering a short address. Among the relatives and friends present, beside the widow and daughter of the deceased, were Mrs. Thomas Melville, widow of the late governor of the Sailors' Snug Harbor; the Misses Melville, daughters of the late Allan Melville; Samuel Shaw, of Boston; W. B. Morewood, George Brewster, Mrs. Griggs, Miss Lathers, Dr. Titus Munson Coan, Arthur Stedman and George Dillaway.

The death of Herman Melville, although following a lingering illness, has come as a surprise to even his few acquaintances in the city, for their opportunities of seeing him have been extremely limited in number. Much has been written, particularly in English journals, concerning the alleged neglect and disregard of Mr. Melville by contemporary authors in this country, but it is a well-known fact here that his seclusion has been a matter of personal choice.

This writer gained an international reputation at an earlier date than James Russell Lowell, although born in the same year, 1819. His practical abandonment of literary work some twenty-five years ago, however, has allowed general interest in his books to die out.

Mr. Melville came of patrician blood on both sides of his family, his fraternal and maternal grandfathers figuring prominently in the Revolution, being respectively of Scottish, New-England and Dutch dissent. As in Richard Henry Dana's case, Melville's first literary success was a narrative of his own experience while a common sailor before the mast and in new countries; but unlike Dana, he continued work in the same field, and with credit. In regard to "Typee," Dr. Coan was heard to remark at the service yesterday that his father, the Rev. Titus Coan, of the Hawaiian Islands, had personally visited the Marquesas group, found the Typee Valley, and verified in every detail the romantic descriptions of the gentle but man-devouring islanders. Dr. Coan further said: "Herman Melville was the first man who shared the life of a cannibal community in the South Seas—who had the consummate literary skill to describe it—and who got away alive to write his book. 'Typee' will be read when most of the Concord group are forgotten."  
However this may be, Mr. Melville always has been an interesting figure to New-York literary circles. So far from being forgotten, he was among the very first to be invited to join the Authors' Club at its founding in 1882. His declination of this offer, as well as his general refusal to enter into social life, are said to have been chiefly due to the very adverse critical reception accorded his novel, "Pierre, or the Ambiguities," published in 1852. He was always a great reader, and was much interested in collecting engravings of the old masters, having a large library and a fine assortment of prints, those of Claude's paintings being his favorites.

His tall, stalwart figure, until recently, could be seen almost daily tramping through the Fort George district or Central Park, his roving inclination leading him to obtain as much out-door life as possible. His evenings were spent at home with his books, his pictures and his family, and usually with them alone.

While at Pittsfield, Mass., from 1850 to 1862, he became the intimate friend of Hawthorne, who lived for a while near by at Lenox, and they often exchanged visits. It was at this place that most of Melville's writing was done. The place in the New York Custom House was given up about 1881.

At the beginning of failing health, some three years ago, Mr. Melville wrote and privately circulated a little story entitled "John Marr." It was dedicated to Clark Russell, who was a cordial admirer and correspondent. Last spring, after his final illness set in, he collected and had printed his miscellaneous shorter poems under the title "Timoleon, etc." This volume is dedicated to "My Countryman, Elihu Vedder." Both little books are limited to twenty-five copies. Mr. Melville's later style became somewhat rugged and mystical. His best-known poem was "Sheridan at Cedar Creek," thought by most literary experts to be superior to "Twenty Miles Away," though lacking a popular refrain.

The following poem is from "Timoleon":

The Return of the Sire de Nesle,
A. D. 16——.

My towers at last! These rovings end.
Their thirst is slaked in larger dearth;
The yearning infinite recoils,
       For terrible is earth.

Kaf thrusts his snouted crags through fog;
Araxes swells beyond his span.
And knowledge poured by pilgrimage
       Overflows the banks of man.

But thou, my stay, thy lasting love,
One lonely good, let this but be!
Weary to view the wide world's swarm,
       But blest to fold but thee.
--New York Tribune, October 1, 1891; reprinted without the poem from Timoleon in Melville in His Own Time, edited by Steven Olsen-Smith (University of Iowa Press, 2015), pages 164-166.
Philip Hale may have contributed the obit of Melville published in the Boston Journal on September 29, 1891, part of which is lifted from the end of the 1856 article A Trio of American Sailor-Authors
in The Dublin University Magazine.

Boston Journal - September 29, 1891
via GenealogyBank

Herman Melville.

Mr. Herman Melville, the well known author of popular seafaring stories, died at his home in New York Sunday night. So little has been heard of him, personally, in late years that many people imagined he was dead, yet his literary honors were well won and deserved. In the past 15 years he wrote little for publication. Mr. Melville's early life was full of adventures. He was born of an ancient Scotch family in New York Aug. 1, 1819. In his 18th year he made a voyage from New York to Liverpool and back home before the mast, and liked his marine experience sufficiently to embark in a whaling vessel for the Pacific Jan. 1, 1841. About July of the next year the vessel arrived at Nukaheva, one of the Marquesas Islands, and Melville, with a fellow sailor, who like himself was tired of strait quarters and a tyrannical captain, embraced the opportunity of leaving the ship without waiting for the usual formality of a discharge. Falling into the hands of a warlike race who inhabited Typee Valley, Melville was detained a prisoner for four months, when he was unexpectedly rescued by the crew of a Sydney whaler. After passing several months in the Society and Sandwich Islands, he shipped on board the frigate United States and arrived at Boston in October, 1844, having been absent from home nearly three years. 
Most readers associate Herman Melville only with those adventures which his early life as a sailor made the means of his literature; but besides "Omoo," "Typee," "Mardi" and books of kindred character, he wrote such stories as "The Confidence Man," a volume of poems about the Civil War and two volumes on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The cannibals whom he met were made the subject of his first novel, "Typee," published in 1846. Besides those already mentioned he wrote a philosophical romance, "Redburn," "Plute Jacket; or, The World on a Man-of-War," "Moby Dick," "Pierre," Israel Potter" and "The Prazza Tales." 
It is interesting to recall the fact that the grandfather of Herman Melville, Major Thomas Melville, was a noted Bostonian and a member of the famous tea party. In 1847 Herman Melville married a daughter of Chief Justice Shaw of Boston and resided for some years at Berkshire, Mass. He was undoubtedly an original thinker, and boldly and unreservedly expressed his opinions, often in a way that irresistibly startles and enchains the interest of the reader. He possessed marked powers of expression. He could be terse, copious, eloquent, brilliant, imaginative, poetical, satirical, pathetic, at will. Though never stupid or dull, yet he was often mystical and unintelligible, though not from any inability to express himself. His death removes a noted figure in American literature.  --Boston Journal, September 29, 1891.
Melville was well-remembered in Buffalo and Troy, as shown by obituaries in Buffalo Courier (September 29, 1891) and the Troy Budget (reprinted with cuts in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 18, 1891). Warren Broderick found the original, longer obit in the Troy Northern Budget of October 4, 1891; transcribed in Deceased but Not Forgotten: Obituaries for Herman Melville in the Upstate Press (Leviathan 16. 2, June 2014), pages 58-68 at 66-7.

· Tue, Sep 29, 1891 – 4 · Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, New York) ·

San Francisco Chronicle - October 18, 1891
via GenealogyBank
Below, the memorial essay by Charles Goodrich Whiting in his column "The Literary Wayside," published in the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican on October 4, 1891:

Springfield Republican - October 4, 1891
via GenealogyBank
· Wed, Oct 28, 1891 – Page 3 · The York Daily (York, Pennsylvania) ·


  1. Today I added obituaries in the Buffalo Courier and San Francisco Chronicle. The SF item is somewhat abridged from the Troy Northern Budget obit that Warren Broderick discovered and transcribed in his June 2014 Leviathan article: