Sunday, September 29, 2019

London news from Gansevoort Melville

Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Bt by Henry William Pickersgill-detail
Detail of Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Bt, by Henry William Pickersgill

As revealed in Gansevoort Melville's 1846 London Journal, edited by Hershel Parker (New York Public Library, 1966), Herman Melville's older brother wrote many letters home to family members and friends including Edwin Croswell, editor of the Albany Argus. Gansevoort Melville's letters to Croswell evidently supplied material for at least one article of London news in the Argus during the first months of 1846.

On March 24, 1846, the Albany Argus published "extracts from a letter from an American gentleman, in London, whose position and character, give weight to his opinions." Although unnamed in print, the "American gentleman" was surely editor Croswell's friend Gansevoort Melville, then employed in the authoritative "position" of Secretary to the American Legation in London. The letter excerpted in the Argus is dated March 2, 1846. On March 4th Gansevoort had sent 13 letters by steamer including one to Croswell (1846 London Journal page 63, 45-46 in Parker's edition).

As noted in his journal (February 3, 1846), Gansevoort had sent Lemuel Shaw and others printed copies of the prime minister's speech on repeal of the Corn Laws, which Gansevoort called "Sir Robt Peel's great speech on his scheme of commercial policy." (On the same day, Gansevoort also sent one "long letter," now lost, to his brother Herman Melville, and others to New York friends about Typee.) Gansevoort's journal entry for February 9th records his witnessing the House of Commons debate on "Sir Robert Peel's scheme of commercial policy." Gansevoort's repeated phrase, "scheme of commercial policy," is also used by Edwin Croswell's "American gentleman" in connection with ongoing debates that Gansevoort had personally witnessed in visits to both Houses of the British Parliament.

Gansevoort often saw Louis McClane, the American Minister to Great Britain, when McLane was ill and bedridden. On February 19th Gansevoort observed that "Mr. McLane sat up to-day for the first time in 9 or 10 days." Gansevoort found him "gradually improving in health" on February 24th, but "still feeble" on March 2, 1846, the date of the letter from Croswell's "American gentleman" describing McLane as "now better, but much enfeebled."

Like Gansevoort Melville, the American gentleman in London had been "recently at Court." Gansevoort's journal entry for January 22nd depicts Queen Victoria as "very short fat & bloated in the face & neck." Gansevoort's private impression or something to that effect is implied in the superficially kinder assurance by Croswell's London correspondent that "The Queen is much flattered by all the pictures of her which I have seen." (Parker notes that "Victoria's appearance probably owed something to her being several months pregnant.") The cleverly worded, implied comparison of the Queen's actual appearance to flattering portraits was deleted when the Argus column was reprinted in the Washington Daily Union on March 25, 1846.

The final paragraph in the quoted letter from Croswell's "American gentleman" conveys the essential matter of Gansevoort's journal entry on February 16, 1846:

 "Mr. WHEATON has been here. He will return to the U. S. in May, and expects to be succeeded by Major DONELSON, who is a sound, judicious man."
9-- about 9 we left. I saw Mr Wheaton home--bade him good bye. He tells me that he will return home in May. A J Donelson is to succeed him -- a good appointment.
--Gansevoort Melville's 1846 London Journal, page 39 in Hershel Parker's edition.
Elsewhere in the 1846 journal Gansevoort describes Henry Wheaton, the retiring U. S. minister to Prussia, as "a cold selfish, and somewhat sordid man." Wheaton's better-liked successor is the subject of a recent biography by Richard Douglas Spence, Andrew Jackson Donelson: Jacksonian and Unionist (Vanderbilt University Press, 2017).

Albany Argus - March 24, 1846 via GenealogyBank


The following are extracts from a letter from an American gentleman, in London, whose position and character, give weight to his opinions:

LONDON, March 2, 1846.

"The intense interest felt in the fate of Sir ROBERT PEEL'S great scheme of commercial policy, has for the last few weeks overshadowed the Oregon question in the attention of the public; but now that the triumphant majority of 97 in the Commons has declared itself in favor of the measure as submitted, it is generally conceded that the Lords will not dare to offer serious opposition to its passage through the House, and the large number who take this view of the case consider the Corn Laws virtually repealed by the heavy majority in favor of their demolition in the more popular and powerful branch of the national legislature. I have been present frequently during the debate, and have had the advantage of hearing, on a great topic, nearly all the first political names of England. The successful accomplishment of this great revolutionary movement, is, in my humble view, more a tribute to the power of popular agitation and a concession to the necessity of the case, than a homage to the principles of Free Trade.

"Sir ROBERT PEEL looks pale and careworn.-- He and the Home Secretary, Sir JAMES GRAHAM, were compelled, during a protracted debate of twelve nights, to endure a kind of political martyrdom. Their speeches, their pledges, the promises on which they obtained office, were all cast into their teeth. HANSARD [reports] was ransacked to delectate their ears with their own staunch arguments for the validity of principles, which are now sought to be overturned, not temporarily but for ever, by the very men who rode into power, as all believed, for the express purpose of maintaining inviolate that which they now will themselves destroy. 
"Mr. McLANE has been very sick, and for 10 or 11 days was confined to his bed. He is now better, but much enfeebled in body by the severity of the attack to which he has been exposed. I was recently at Court. The Queen is much flattered by all the pictures of her which I have seen. As a spectacle, the coup d'oell [coup d'oeil] was magnificent.  
"Mr. WHEATON has been here. He will return to the U. S. in May, and expects to be succeeded by Major DONELSON, who is a sound, judicious man."
-- Albany Argus, March 24, 1846. Reprinted in the Madison Observer (Morrisville, New York) on March 25, 1846; and the Washington Daily Union, also on March 25, 1846.
The Washington Daily Union censored Gansevoort's impolite allusion to the Queen's personal appearance:

Washington [D. C.] Daily Union - March 25, 1846
"Mr. McLane has been very sick, and for ten or eleven days was confined to his bed. He is now better, but much enfeebled in body by the severity of the attack to which he has been exposed. I was recently at Court. As a spectacle, the coup d'oeil was magnificent."
Alongside the latest from London, the March 24, 1846 issue of the Albany Argus printed news of the recent "Great Battle in India" with two different narratives by Sir Hugh Gough as Commander-in-Chief, India. Most likely, these accounts were also supplied by Gansevoort Melville. On February 24, 1846 Gansevoort
"wrote Mr Croswell a short letter on the war with the Sikhs accompanying papers contg the late intelligence of Sir Hugh Gough's two battles this side the Sutlej."
 --Gansevoort Melville's 1846 London Journal, page 42 in Parker's edition.
Edwin Croswell
Brady-Handy photograph collection, Library of Congress

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Sterling G. Cato in 1848, seeking Typee

Tue, Nov 28, 1848 – Page 3 · Spirit of the South (Eufaula, Alabama) ·
From the Eufaula Democrat (Eufaula, Alabama), November 28, 1848:
NOTICE.— To all to whom this shall come—GREETING; and to borrowers of books in particular. Bring up and return "Typee," and entitle yourself who ever you are to the thanks and gratitude of

Eufaula, Nov. 27, 1848.
Georgia native Sterling Green Cato (1817-1867) was then an Alabama lawyer, hence the formality of his published notice asking for the return of Typee by an unknown or at least unidentified borrower. As Territorial Judge in Kansas,1855-1858, S. G. Cato would become notorious for (besides his drinking, gambling, and saying "de Cote" for "the court") his pro-slavery agenda and activism. In Alabama Cato and his brother Lewis Lewellyn Cato belonged to the influential secessionist group known as the Eufaula Regency. S. G. Cato died in Liberty, Missouri on October 24, 1867, at the age of 50 not 60 years as reported in the Liberty Tribune of October 25, 1867; reprinted November 2, 1867 in the viciously racist Weekly Caucasian. About which see Aaron Astor, "The Lexington Weekly Caucasian: White Supremacist Political Discourse in post-Civil War Western Missouri," chapter 11 in Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri, ed. Jonathan Earle and Diane Mutti Burke (University Press of Kansas, 2013), pages 189-204.

Wed, Sep 8, 1869 – Page 2 · Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) ·

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Pierre in Syracuse NY

Syracuse Daily Standard - August 10, 1852 via
Pierre, or the Ambiguities, by HERMAN MELVILLE, New York, Harper & Brother, 1852, pp. 495.
Melville has obtained such a reputation by his luxuriant tales, we need not commend this one; we dare not pronounce against it. We have not had time to read it much, since it was laid on our table. We have read enough, however, to find in it the writer's well known characteristics. We expect for ourselves a feast in reading it, and we commend it to others with confidence.  For sale by HALL, MILLS & CO., and E. H. BABCOCK & CO.
-- Syracuse Daily Standard (Syracuse, New York) August 10, 1852; found on
Related post:

Moby-Dick in Syracuse NY

This highly favorable review of Moby-Dick has been transcribed and reprinted before now, in Melville Reviews and Notices, Continued, Leviathan, Volume 13, Issue 1, March 2011, pages 88-115 at pages 100-101. As noted there, I found it in files of the Syracuse Daily Standard on An excerpt appears in the 2015 Melvilliana post, Rare appreciation of Moby-Dick, early and late. Believing that the Syracuse review deserves any chance to circulate and become better known, I present it here again, this time in full. (Eagle-eyed readers will catch the comma after "individuality" in the second paragraph, omitted in the 2011 article.)

Transcribed below from the Syracuse NY Daily Standard of November 24, 1851 which is still accessible on, the great online collection of newspaper archives created and managed by Tom Tryniski.

Syracuse Daily Standard (Syracuse, New York) - November 24, 1851 via

Syracuse Daily Standard (Syracuse, New York) - November 24, 1851 via
Moby Dick; or the Whale; By HERMAN MELVILLE, Author of "Typee," "Omoo," "Redburn," "Mardi," "White Jacket." New York. Harper & Brother, 1851.

"Remarkable," is the adjective which, by general consent, is applied to all of Herman Melville's books. They deserve the epithet, and others less vague and satisfactory. Melville is a true genius, and impresses himself upon all that he writes. We do not know that he indulges himself in verse, but he is a poet and a dramatist, as well as a novelist and historiographer; and somehow in everything that he gives to the public, he illustrates his wonderful versatility,-- so that the reader hardly knows whether to admire him most as poet, dramatist, novelist or philosopher. This is the state of dubiousness with which we rise from the perusal of "Moby Dick." But it is a dubiousness that consists with keen delight, for seldom have we read a more fascinating book, or one that exhibits a wider scope of power, ranging from the most abstruse speculations of the philosopher, to the wildest imaginations of the poet. The story is one of intense interest, but we hardly know whether to regard Captain Ahab, or that great Sea-Satan, Moby Dick, the hero; and it matters little which, for power and daring and unconquerable energy are alike illustrated in both--the King of Leviathans hunted in his olden seas, and the hardy whaleman urged on to the chase by a monomania that makes himself at once terrible and sublime.

There are other characters that will arrest the reader's attention, for their vivid individuality, and as illustrations of Melville's powers of delineation. Among them we may mention the Parsee, Starbuck, Stubbs, and poor Pip, the crazed witling, all of whom stand out distinct and life-like, under the graphic power of a master's pen. In richness and boldness of coloring, whether he is portraying scenery or men, describing a chase for a whale, the revel in the forecastle, or the self-communion of a strong spirit marked and wrenched by fate or circumstance, the author of "Moby Dick" has scarcely an equal and no superior. We venture to predict, that among the prolific issues of the American press, this year, none will take hold of a wider and more speedy popularity, or more successfully maintain its place in the affections of the reading public, than this last production of Herman Melville.

(For sale by L. W. Hall.)
The unsigned review of Moby-Dick in the Syracuse Daily Standard appears on page 2 of the November 24, 1851 issue, along with "Literary Notices" of Florence, the Parish Orphan by Eliza Buckminster Lee and the 1852 Ticknor, Reed and Fields edition of Sir Roger De Coverly. The front page features a mocking treatment of The Second National Woman's Rights Convention in October, reprinted from the Sunday Times and Noah's Weekly Messenger, titled "The Merry Wives of Worcester." According to the masthead, the Syracuse Daily Standard was then published by "Agan and Summers," meaning founder and political editor Patrick H. Agan in partnership with journeyman printer and abolitionist Moses Summers.

Related post:

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Friday, September 20, 2019

Gansevoort Melville, speeches and more on Melvilliana

The New York Public Library Digital Collections
For anyone looking into the life and times of Herman Melville's brilliant older brother Gansevoort Melville (1815-1846), here are links to relevant posts on Melvilliana, starting with those containing transcriptions (partial, mostly) of Gansevoort's political speeches.

Speeches by Gansevoort Melville


More on Gansevoort Melville

Published scholarship:
  • Hershel Parker, Herman Melville: A Biography, Volume 1, 1819-1851 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). See especially chapter 5, In the Shadow of the Young Furrier (pages 84-103); and chapter 16, The Sailor, the Orator, and the Grand Contested Election: 1844 (pages 316-338).