Thursday, July 1, 2021

Hoadley's national poem, cheered by Melville

Ashley Lake Loop Trail - Photo by Kimberly Kaigle

In the loft of a Berkshire barn one rainy afternoon in August 1851, Herman Melville entertained a group of fellow summer excursionists by reading somebody else's ultra-patriotic poem out loud, with enthusiasm:
interrupting the flattered author who sat thoughtful on a hay tuft—with such phrases as “great” “glorious” “by Jove that’s tremendous” &c. 
  --Evert A. Duyckinck, letter to his wife Margaret dated August 8, 1851; as quoted in Luther Stearns Mansfield, Glimpses of Herman Melville's Life in Pittsfield, American Literature (March 1937) pages 39-40.
Evert A. Duyckinck was there. The letter from Duyckinck giving the circumstances of Melville's performance the day before (Thursday, August 7th) is transcribed and conveniently available in Steven Olsen-Smith, Melville in His Own Time (University of Iowa Press, 2015) pages 57-8. In The Melville Log volume 1 (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1951) pages 420-1), Jay Leyda identified the lucky poet as Joseph Edward Adams Smith and the poem as Smith's "On Onota's Graceful Shore," eventually published in Souvenir Verse and Story (Springfield, Mass., 1896). 

Somehow Leyda got the wrong poet and poem, as did Merton M. Sealts, Jr. after him and Hershel Parker after them--Sealts in The Early Lives of Melville (University of Wisconsin Press, 1974) pages 29-31; and Parker in the first volume of Herman Melville: A Biography Volume 1, 1819-1851 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996; paperback 2005) pages 855-6. On closer inspection, Smith's poem, subtitled "A Ballad of the Times that Tried Men's Souls," does not match up with any part of Duyckinck's eye and ear-witness description. "Onota's Graceful Shore" is a fairly short piece of eleven stanzas--octets, so 88 lines in all, by no means the stuff of a "stout" manuscript as Duyckinck described it. Smith's ballad is composed in sing-song couplets of rhyming iambic tetrameter, not what Duyckinck called "sounding lines" of more dignified pentameter to be expected of "heroic measure" or heroic verse in English; and it honors a particular Berkshire farmer-soldier named David Noble for decisive action as a militia leader, with no obvious aim or effect of exalting "the United States in particular with a polite slanging of all other nations in general." Instead of nationalist zeal, Smith's poem exhibits decidedly regional pride along with a kind of philosophical resignation over the absence of any tangible earthly reward for the local patriot's sacrifices:
"His memory on Onota's shore,
Only that, and nothing more!"  --Souvenir Verse and Story
Here below is more of the relevant passage from Duyckinck's letter to his wife as transcribed by Steven Olsen-Smith in the introduction to Melville in His Own Time:
Mrs M had a poet in the company and his poem too a stout MSS of heroic measure, a glorification of the United States in particular with a polite slanging of all other nations in general . . . which H M read with emphasis (interrupting the flattered author who sat thoughtful on a hay tuft--with such phrases as "great glorious" "By Jove, that's tremendous" &c)--but perhaps the most noticeable incident was a gathering of the exiled fowls in a corner who cackled a series of noisy resolutions, levelled at the party. "Turn em out!" was the cry. The author impelled by the honor of his poem charged fearlessly, scattered the critics of the pit, clasping the most obstinate bodily and "rushing" her a rapid descent below." (page xvii)
As a graduate student on a mission from Hershel Parker, Olsen-Smith re-examined the manuscript at NYPL and corrected one earlier misreading in the passage above. According to Duyckinck the unruly hens were really "critics of the pit" not "cuties of the pit" as Mansfield and Leyda erroneously had it. Duyckinck pictured those evicted chickens as noisy critics, jeering like the groundlings in Shakespeare's day. 

Leyda's misidentification of J. E. A. Smith in this case appears to have been influenced by Duyckinck's explicit reference to "one Smith known as 'the mad poet'" in another letter to his wife, dated August 9, 1851, enclosing Smith's pseudonymous newspaper article "A Petit Fancy Dress Party in Berkshire" (Boston Evening Transcript, August 7, 1851). (For the text of this later letter, see Melville in His Own Time, pages 58-60.) Signed "Miantonomah," the 1851 newspaper sketch by the "mad poet" J. E. A. Smith tattled about a recent masquerade hosted by the Morewoods at Broad Hall, one that Melville seems not to have attended.

But Evert Duyckinck did not name Smith or any poem title when telling his wife about Melville's energetic reading in the hayloft. Rather, as Duyckinck described him the "flattered author" turned out to be "a thoughtful sensible man" who afterward guided the party safely up steep mountain slopes to Ashley Pond aka "Washington Lake." Most likely the unnamed "Poet" in Sarah Morewood's train that rainy afternoon of August 7, 1851 was not "mad poet" Smith but Melville's future brother-in-law John C. Hoadley. Significantly, Hoadley had already been associated with Sarah Morewood in public readings of original verse around Pittsfield. As quoted from Smith's History of Pittsfield in Leyda's Melville Log page 394, the dedication of the new Pittsfield Cemetery on September 9, 1850 featured the choral performance of odes “by John C. Hoadley, Mrs. Emily P. Dodge and Mrs. J. R. Morewood." In Herman Melville: The Making of the Poet, Hershel Parker adds that “In 1851 Hoadley read his own poetry aloud in Pittsfield at the Fourth of July celebration (again with Melville’s neighbor, Sarah Morewood)." Same information appears in Parker's Historical Note for Herman Melville's Published Poems (Northwestern University Press, 2009) on page 347.

As the evidence of Hoadley's September 1851 letter to Duyckinck (transcribed below) suggests, Hoadley's patriotic "national poem" was probably the "stout" production "glorifying the United States" that Duyckinck had heard Melville read out loud in the hayloft on August 7, 1851--just over a month after Hoadley's own performance at the Independence Day festivities in Pittsfield. Length, meter, and content fairly disqualify Smith's poem "On Onota's Shore" from consideration. Duyckinck's description is far better fitted to Hoadley's poem, the one that Hoadley himself had recited in Pittsfield on July 4, 1851. In the Melville Log, Leyda reports the event, and also the original title of Hoadley's work: "The Union." Within editorial brackets Leyda reveals that Hoadley's 4th of July poem "The Union" was re-titled "Destiny."
For the holiday, John C. Hoadley pronounces a newly composed poem, "The Union" [later retitled "Destiny"] --The Melville Log Volume 1 - [416]

Leyda's source for this information, cited in volume 2 of the Melville Log, is a manuscript by Hoadley in the New York Public Library Gansevoort-Lansing collection. Looking specifically for Hoadley's 1851 poem "The Union," re-titled "Destiny" according to Jay Leyda, I have contacted NYPL to request more information about Hoadley manuscripts in the Gansevoort-Lansing collection, Box 351. If NYPL has Hoadley's poem THE UNION aka DESTINY and can provide scans, I hope to transcribe the text on Melvilliana.

Corroborative evidence for Melville's reading of John C. Hoadley's "Union" poem exists in the letter Hoadley wrote to Evert Duyckinck on September 9, 1851. I located this item years ago, as reported in the 2016 Melvilliana post

Back then I figured with Leyda and Sealts and Parker that Smith's "On Onota's Graceful Shore" must have been the poem Melville read aloud in August 1851. But after looking harder at Smith's poem, I see that can't be right. Hoadley's letter effectively documents his social and literary connections with Melville and Duyckinck just after the relevant Berkshire excursions of August 1851. Hoadley's confession of "a twinge of selfish regret that I could not be of your party" during one trip to Greylock implies that he was invited but for some reason had to miss the trip. He assumed Duyckinck had sent him the write-up of the Greylock adventure in the Literary World, another indication of their recent socializing. Hoadley then gives important details about the effort (evidently unsuccessful) to get his "national poem" published. The Harpers rejected it, so Hoadley asked them to pass it along to D. Appleton & Co. Apparently the manuscript of  Hoadley's "national poem" was stout enough on its own to make a printed book or pamphlet. Most explicitly, Hoadley reveals that "Melville's hearty praises" have given him "more hope than anything else." Herman Melville read Hoadley's "national poem" and loved it. 

Pittsfield, Sept. 9th. 1851.
E. A. Duyckinck Esq.

Dear Sir,

I received a copy of the Literary World a few days since, containing an interesting account of your excursion to Grey Lock, for which I suppose I have to thank your kindness. I read it with lively pleasure though not without a twinge of selfish regret that I could not be of your party.— "Can a man hold fire in his hand by thinking on the frosty Caucasus?”

The Harpers, to whom I had sent my national poem for publication, decline it, and advise me to send it to D. Appleton & Co. which I have accordingly requested the Messers H. to do.— I can not but desire to have it printed, but have not much hope of it. Melville’s hearty praises give me more hope than anything else.

I am, My Dear Sir,
Very Respectfully,
Yours &c. John C. Hoadley.


Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "Hoadley, John Chipman (1818-1886)" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1851.
Hoadley refers to the account by Evert A. Duyckinck in the Literary World for August 30, 1851 headed "NOTES OF EXCURSIONS—NO. I / AN ASCENT OF MOUNT SADDLEBACK." The Greylock climb by Herman Melville with his Berkshire friends and visiting literati took place on Monday, August 11, 1851, during what Hershel Parker describes as "a second idyll in the Berkshires, fit to rank with that of the previous August" (Herman Melville: A Biography V1.855). Sarah Morewood also wrote of That Excursion to Greylock in a chapter she contributed to J. E. A. Smith's 1852 volume Taghconic

Like Sarah Morewood, Hoadley also contributed a chapter for Taghconic: Or, Letters and Legends about our Summer Home (Boston, 1852). Hoadley's sketch of Berry Pond takes the form of a letter dated March 22, 1852, signed "H." and evidently written to Smith from Lawrence, Massachusetts where Hoadley had relocated from Pittsfield. Smith aka Godfrey Greylock acknowledges Hoadley without naming him in a footnote to Chapter 6, "Berry Pond":
* I am indebted for this Chapter to the kindness of a much esteemed and very clever friend. -- Taghconic chapter 6, Berry Pond.
To wrap up for now, before the real fireworks start for our glorious 4th of July 2021 celebration, I would also note the particular fitness of Hoadley's role as "our pilot to the Ashley Pond" near the summit of Washington mountain, after the reading of his patriotic Union-Destiny verses in the barn. As related by Duyckinck, Hoadley first had to roust “a gathering of exiled fowls in a corner who cackled a series of noisy resolutions levelled at the party.”
The author impelled by the honor of his poem charged fearlessly, scattered the critics of the pit, clasping the most obstinate bodily and "rushing" her a rapid descent below. This was the ludicrous side. On the other, the Poet was a thoughtful sensible man and was our pilot to the Ashley Pond or Washington Lake which we reached at last after an endless ascent by the side of steep gorges, on the summit of the Hoosac, looking back to the distant sublimities of cloud & mountain of the Taghconic. -- Melville in His Own Time, page 58

The "Poet" turned "pilot" confidently guided Duyckinck and company to Ashley Pond, a location that Hoadley knew exceptionally well, for the best professional and civic reasons.

As an engineer and engaged citizen of Pittsfield, John C. Hoadley worked hard to bring good water to Pittsfield. Hoadley

was very active in all the efforts to acquire Ashley Lake for water supply and at a public meeting a vote was passed “thanking Messrs. McKay and Hoadley for their public spirited efforts in behalf of supplying the village with pure water."  -- Joseph Ward Lewis, quoting Smith's History of Pittsfield page 563 in "Berkshire Men of Worth," Berkshire County Eagle, September 18, 1935.
For Hoadley that work began the previous year with his formal report in September 1850 to the Pittsfield Library Association. Presumably the firm of McKay & Hoadley would have been of service in the manufacture and supply of necessary iron pipes. As the town expert, or one of them, Hoadley was assigned to the water-works committee. Coincidentally, the guided trip to Ashley Pond described by Duyckinck in August 1851 might have provided Hoadley with a great opportunity for obtaining another water sample. Regular samples were then being collected for testing by Hoadley's committee, expressly appointed "to make a thorough examination of the quantity and quality of the water of Lake Ashley."

23 Jan 1851, Thu The Pittsfield Sun (Pittsfield, Massachusetts)
At the big Firemen's banquet or supper or levee on January 15, 1851, reportedly attended by 200 guests, Hoadley spoke at some length on "the great subject of water," specifically the merits of Ashley water:

“The great subject of water, which is exciting a great deal of interest in town just now, is one upon which we have all to form opinions that shall guide us in immediate action, and it is important that we should form wise opinions. About the excellence of the water of Lake Ashley, about its desirableness in our village, I think sir there can be but one opinion.  --Pittsfield Sun, January 23, 1851

Knowing Hoadley and his hobby, some in the audience could not have been too surprised by his closing revelation:

"This water in our glasses is from lake Ashley. It came down by the ambulatory aqueduct, the circulating aqueduct not being yet in operation.

23 Jan 1851, Thu The Pittsfield Sun (Pittsfield, Massachusetts)
Concerning the obvious desirableness of pure drinking water from Ashley, Franklin E. Taylor concurred in this toast To the Pontoosuc Engine Company, No. 2:

"May we all soon have the Ashley Pon-too-suc (Pond-to-suck)."

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1 comment:

  1. Meredith Mann, Librarian for Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books at The New York Public Library has kindly informed me that "this poem, in box 351 of the Gansevoort-Lansing collection under the title "Destiny," is written within a bound volume on 53 sheets, some sheets with manuscript additions or drawings on their versos. It is mostly written in ink, with some pencil notations." Copies ordered!