Monday, January 31, 2022

Astonishing poem on the Holy Land forthcoming: premature notices of CLAREL aka CLARA

Convent of Santa Saba
via The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Herman Melville's religious epic Clarel was first published by G. P. Putnam's Sons in June 1876. Months before, the work had been announced in the New York press as forthcoming. As things turned out, however, the earliest notices of Melville's new "poem on the Holy Land" were premature. 

The Publishers' Weekly - January 15, 1876

G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS, New-York. 
... A Poem on the Holy Land, Narrative and Descriptive. By Herman Melville.

-- The Publishers' Weekly, January 15, 1876. 

The announcement in Publishers' Weekly on January 15, 1876 indicated a different working title, with no mention of "Clarel," the name of Melville's student-quester:

A Poem on the Holy Land, Narrative and Descriptive. By Herman Melville.

The earliest newspaper notices picked up on the interesting generic characterization of Melville's new poem as "narrative and descriptive":

New York Daily Tribune - January 12, 1876


"A narrative and descriptive poem on the Holy Land, by Herman Melville, is in press by G. P. Putnam's Sons." -- New York Daily Tribune, January 12, 1876.
"A narrative and descriptive poem on the Holy Land, by Herman Melville, is in press by G. P. Putnam's Sons."--  Syracuse NY Daily Journal, January 15, 1876. 


The Christian Union - January 19, 1876

"Herman Melville, who is best known in literature by his fascinating sea-stories, has astonished his many admirers by writing a poem on the Holy Land, which the Messrs. Putnam will shortly publish."  -- The Christian Union, January 19, 1876.

"A narrative and descriptive poem on the Holy Land, by Herman Melville, is in press by G. P. Putnam's Sons."--  Chicago Tribune, January 22, 1876

31 Jan 1876, Mon New York Daily Herald (New York, New York)

Herman Mellville, the author of "Typee" and "Omoo," who has long been absent from book authorship, has a poem on the "Holy Land" in Putnam's press.

-- New York Herald, January 31, 1876. 

Portland Maine Daily Press - January 29, 1876

"... a narrative poem on The Holy Land, by Herman Melville, who has heretofore been known only by his audacious romances,--Typee, Omoo and Moby Dick...."  
-- Portland ME Daily Press, January 29, 1876. 
In The American Bookseller for March 1, 1876, Putnam's Sons announced the title as "The Holy Land. A Narrative Poem."

Later in March Melville's publisher got the eponymous title right:
Mr. Herman Melville's narrative poem of a pilgrimage in the Holy Land, called "Clarel," will introduce him afresh to a new generation of readers.

-- Publishers' Weekly, March 11, 1876. 

Nevertheless, in April another announcement, still pre-publication, gave the title of Melville's forthcoming work as "Clara":

Clara. A Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. A Narrative Poem. By HERMAN MELVILLE. 2 VOLS., 12mo, cloth, extra, $3.  --Publisher's Weekly, April 22, 1876.

Melville's verse epic Clarel, A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land was officially published on June 7, 1876 according to this advertisement in the New York Evening Post:

New York Evening Post - June 7, 1876
via Genealogy Bank
Related post:

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Do Not Give Up Your Rights ~ Dr. Julie Ponesse’s Remarkable Speech

Do Not Give Up Your Rights ~ Dr. Julie Ponesse’s Remarkable Speech: Dr. Julie Ponesse is a professor of ethics who has taught at Ontario’s Huron University College for 20 years. She was placed on leave and banned from accessing her campus due to the vaccine mandate.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Dispatch notice of BATTLE-PIECES

From the New York Dispatch, September 2, 1866:

BATTLE PIECES. By Herman Melville.
Harper & Brothers, publishers.

The contents of this little volume, the writer tells us in his preface, originated in an impulse imparted by the fall of Richmond. As a memento of the various battles of the Rebellion, it will be valued, especially by those who participated in the fights of which the poet so melodiously sings. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022


Plage de Tautira
Jérémie Silvestro / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Advertised in the Louisville Morning Courier, May 29, 1847:

NEW Books at Geo. W. Noble's Cheap Literary Depot, No 66, Fourth st.

"... Omoo, a narrative of adventures in the South Seas, by Herman Melville, author of Typee. This book is regarded by the "knowing ones" as the book of books."
29 May 1847, Sat The Louisville Daily Courier (Louisville, Kentucky)
In 1849, the same Louisville bookseller would tout Melville's Mardi and a voyage thither as the Greatest work of the age.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Sunday Dispatch review of MARDI

Tahitian warrior dugouts, Le Costume Ancien et Moderne by Giulio Ferrario, 1827
As previously shown here on Melvilliana

the New York Sunday Dispatch highly commended Herman Melville's first two books. The Dispatch praised Typee as "beautiful and fascinating, and best of all, truthful"; and loved Omoo even more for its "spontaneous genial mirth."  Mardi: and a Voyage Thither, not so much. 

In a word,


From the Sunday Dispatch of April 22, 1849; found on GenealogyBank among digitized pages added within the past week. Also accessible via the Library of Congress, Chronicling America

New York Sunday Dispatch - April 22, 1849
via GenealogyBank
New York Sunday Dispatch - April 22, 1849
via GenealogyBank

New Books.

Two Volumes. New York, Harper & Brothers.

Mr. Herman Melville is the most frank and obliging author of these latter days. He tells his readers at the outset, this is fact: this fiction. The most extraordinary yarn ever spun by an "old salt" to credulous mariners was Typee. That was Mr. Melville's first book and one of his facts. The second book, equally strange and improbable, but also a fact, was Omoo. Both these books took wonderfully well. The London critics said that there was a freshness about them which was delightful. We don't deny that for an old salt, Mr. Melville was and is marvelously fresh. The third work, that before us, Mr. Melville admits to be fiction. We are much obliged to him for saving us the trouble of proving it so. We have not read ten pages before we were entirely satisfied on that point.

Fancy, if you please, a sailor spinning off a yarn to a gaping crowd of green horns, after this fashion. I, Melville, and my shipmate Jarl, on board of an old tub of a whaler got tired of "chassezing across the Line, to and fro in search of prey"—worse and worse when the old man finding no luck, resolved to bob for the right whale on the northwest coast. Could'nt stand it, concluded to leave the ship. Got our traps in readiness, put in our stock of water and provisions, and one quiet night, the ship under sail, lowered one of the whale boats, cut the slings and were off, for Mardi. Lots of adventures. Fell in with a Sandwich Island craft—two persons on board—man and wife. More incident. Gale—craft goes down, wife lost. Take again to the whale boat—three persons in all—Melville, Jarl and Samoa. Put for Mardi. On the way fall in with a native canoe, an old man, a priest, on board, with his sons, and a beautiful white girl, who is to be sacrificed to the Mardi gods. Kill the old man, rescue the girl, with whom Melville falls in love (fact or fiction you must throw in a petticoat) and put for Mardi. Approaching one of the Islands of the group, the natives pull up their canoes and run into the grove. Melville dispatches Jarl and the Sandwich Islander to open communications with the natives and meanwhile lays off at safe distance from the shore, he and the beautiful girl Yillah. After a little time Jarl and Samoa come to the shore followed by the natives. Jarl calls to Melville to land without fear, that he has humbugged the natives into the belief that Melville is a god. Of course the runaway sailor pulls in, but ere his craft has touched ground, the natives rush into the water, lift the boat in their brawny arms, and bear it into the grove, where it finds a resting place "in a couple of twin-like trees some four paces apart and a little way from the ground conveniently crotched." Samoa the rascally Kanaka, now calls upon Melville to announce himself as the god Taji, and Melville, nothing loth, thereupon commences his speech. We quote:— [extract that follows is from the first volume of Mardi chapter 54, A Gentleman from the Sun]

Plucking up heart of grace, I crossed my cutlass on my chest, and reposing my hand on the hilt, addressed their High Mightinesses thus: “Men of Mardi, I come from the sun. When this morning it rose and touched the wave, I pushed my shallop from its golden beach, and hither sailed before its level rays. I am Taji." 
More would have been added, but I paused for the effect of my exordium.
Stepping back a pace or two, the chiefs eagerly conversed.
Emboldened, I returned to the charge, and labored hard to impress them with just such impressions of me and mine, as I deemed desirable. The gentle Yillah was a seraph from the sun; Samoa I had picked off a reef in my route from that orb; and as for the Shyeman [Skyeman], why, as his name imported, he came from above. In a word, we were all strolling divinities.
Advancing toward the Chamois, one of the kings, a calm old man, now addressed me as follows:— "Is this indeed Taji? he who according to a tradition, was to return to us after five thousand moons? But that period is yet unexpired. What bring'st thou hither, then, Taji, before thy time? Thou wast but a quarrelsome demi-god, say the legends, when thou dwelt among our sires. But wherefore comest thou, Taji? Truly thou wilt interfere with the worship of thy images, and we have plenty of gods besides thee. But comest thou to fight? We have plenty of spears, and desire not thine. Comest thou to dwell? Small are the houses of Mardi. Or comest thou to fish in the sea? Tell us, Taji.”'
Now, all this was a series of posers, hard to be answered; furnishing a curious example, moreover, of the reception given to strange demi-gods when they travel without their portmanteaus; and also of the familiar manner in which these kings address the immortals. Much I mourned that I had not previously studied better my part, and learned the precise nature of my previous existence in the land.
But nothing like carrying it bravely.
“ Attend. Taji comes, old man, because it pleases him to come. And Taji will depart when it suits him. Ask the shades of your sires whether Taji thus scurvily greeted them, when they came stalking into his presence in the land of spirits. No. Taji spread the banquet. He removed their mantles. He kindled a fire to drive away the damp. He said not, 'Come you to fight, you fogs and vapors? come you to dwell? or come you to fish in the sea?' Go to, then, kings of Mardi !"
Upon this, the old king fell back; and his place was supplied by a noble chief, of a free, frank bearing. Advancing quickly toward the boat, he exclaimed— “I am Media, the son of Media. Thrice welcome, Taji. On my island of Odo hadst thou an altar. I claim thee for my guest.” He then reminded the rest that the strangers had voyaged far, and needed repose. And, furthermore, that he proposed escorting them forthwith to his own dominions; where, next day, he would be happy to welcome all visitants.
And good as his word, he commanded his followers to range themselves under the Chamois. Springing out of our prow, the Upoluan was followed by Jarl; leaving Yillah and Taji to be borne therein toward the sea.
Soon we were once more afloat; by our side, Media sociably seated; six of the paddlers, perche[d] upon the gunwale, swiftly urging us over the lagoon. 
The transition from the grove to the sea was instantaneous. All seemed a dream.
The place to which we were hastening, being some distance away, as we rounded isle after isle, the extent of the Archipelago grew upon us greatly."

We have now got as far as the 199th page of the first volume. The remainder of the work is a stupid imitation of Voltaire's "Candid," Johnson's "Rasselass," and Swift's "Gulliver." Mr. Melville can spin a very good yarn—but as philosopher or satirist—faugh!

-- New York Sunday Dispatch, April 22, 1849. 


Related post:

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Sunday Dispatch, super friendly notices of TYPEE and OMOO

Highly favorable, previously unrecorded notices of Herman Melville's first two books appeared in the New York Sunday Dispatch, a weekly newspaper founded late in 1845 by Amor J. Williamson (1823–1867) and William Burns (1818–1850). As noted over at The Walt Whitman Archive, the Sunday Dispatch "published human-interest stories, serials, fiction, poetry, reviews of books and the theater, as well as local and national news items." Certain items transcribed herein reflect a closer than usual personal connection to the author of Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life and Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas. For instance, the reviewer of Omoo on March 27, 1847 claims to have read both Typee and Omoo in advance of their publication. 

Insider knowledge is evidenced also by commentary in the Dispatch of May 23, 1847 on the first number of the weekly American Literary Gazette and New York Evening Mirror. Early advertisements for the "weekly reflex of news, art, science, literature, &c." listed Jedediah B. Auld as editor, assisted by Evert A. Duyckinck, Charles F. Briggs, and Henry Cood Watson. 

Cincinnati Commercial Tribune - May 29, 1847

Approving the sympathetic review of Omoo in the inaugural issue of May 21, 1847 along with the sharper focus on literary matters in this ambitious new weekly, the Dispatch positively identified the "independant" and "bold" reviewer as editor Evert A. Duyckinck (spelled "Duykinck"), who had recently left the Literary World. Without naming him, Hershel Parker in Herman Melville: A Biography volume 1, 1819-1851 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996) page 518 accurately describes the author of this unsigned, "brilliantly written" piece in the Evening Mirror as "someone high up in the journalistic establishment with a special zeal to defend Melville."

Found on among digitized pages added within the past week; now accessible also via the Library of Congress on Chronicling America.

New York Sunday Dispatch - April 5, 1846
via GenealogyBank

TYPEE ; a Residence in the Marquesas, by Herman Melville, New York, and London Wiley and Putnam.— This is not a work to be dismissed within the limits of an ordinary book notice, and, as we have not room for more extended remarks, this week, we will defer what we have to say to our next, when we will enrich our columns with extracts from Mr Melville's strange and delightful narrative. Meantime we advise all who have the leisure to read it through, to purchase the book.

Somewhat curtailed, the promised extracts appeared the following week.

New York Sunday Dispatch - April 12, 1846



We did intend to make numerous extracts from this charming book, which we commended to our readers in a brief notice last Sunday.— But our contemporaries have drawn so largely on its pages, as to leave us hardly the share of a gleaner. We, however, transfer to our columns, a portion of the chapter, which, in glancing at the influence exercised by the missionaries in the Sandwich Islands, makes some disclosures, which, we apprehend, will occasion no little surprize among the pious sewing circles of our country. The author of Typee is a bold man, to to tell even the truth concerning the Sandwich Island Mission, for he may be sure of having the mad dog cry of infidel set up against him, at home. We cannot dismiss our readers to the extract, without again commending the whole of Mr. Melville's narrative to their perusal. [Extracts that follow are from the first American edition of Typee chapter 26.]

"Look at Honolulu, the metropolis of the Sandwich Islands!  — A community of disinterested merchants, and devoted self-exiled heralds of the Cross, located on the very spot that twenty years ago was defiled by the presence of idolatry. What a subject for an eloquent Bible-meeting orator! Nor has such an opportunity for a display of missionary rhetoric been allowed to pass by unimproved ! — But when these philanthropists send us such glowing accounts of one half of their labors, why does their modesty restrain them from publishing the other half of the good they have wrought? Not until I visited Honolulu was I aware of the fact that the small remnant of the natives had been civilized into draught-horses, and evangelized into beasts of burden. But so it is. They have been literally broken into the traces, and are harnessed to the vehicles of their spiritual instructors like so many dumb brutes!

"Among a multitude of similar exhibitions that I saw, I shall never forget a robust, red-faced, and very lady-like personage, a missionary's spouse, who day after day, for months together, took her regular airings in a little go-cart drawn by two of the islanders, one an old grey-headed man, and the other a rogueish stripling, both being, with the exception of the fig-leaf, as naked us when they were born. Over a level piece of ground this pair of draught bipeds would go with a shambling, unsightly trot, the youngster hanging back all the time like a knowing horse, while the old hack plodded on and did all the work. 

"Rattling along through the streets of the town in this stylish equipage, the lady looks about her as magnificently as any queen driven in state to her coronation. A sudden elevation, and a sandy road, however, soon disturb her serenity. The small wheels become imbedded in the loose soil, — the old stager stands tugging and sweating, while the young one frisks about and does nothing—not an inch does the chariot budge. Will the tender-hearted lady, who has left friends and home for the good of the souls of the poor heathen, will she think a little about their bodies and get out, and ease the wretched old man until the ascent is mounted ? Not she; she could not dream of it. To be sure, she used to think nothing of driving the cows to pasture on the old farm in New England; but times have changed since then. So she retains her seat and bawls out, “ Hookee ! hookee !" —pull, pull. The old gentleman, frightened at the sound, labors away harder than ever; and the younger one makes a great show of straining himself, but takes care to keep one eye on his mistress, in order to know when to dodge out of harm's way. At last the good lady loses all patience: “Hookee! hookee!” and rap goes the heavy handle of her huge fan over the naked skull of the old savage; while the young one shies to one side and keeps beyond its range. 'Hookee ! hookee!' again she cries — “ Hookee tata knnaka!”—pull strong, men—but all in vain, and she is obliged in the end to dismount and, sad necessity, actually to walk to the top of the hill.

At the town where this paragon of humility resides, is a spacious and elegant American chapel, where divine service is regularly performed. Twice every Sabbath towards the close of the exercises may be seen a score or two of little wagons ranged along the railing in front of the edifice, with two squalid native footmen in the livery of nakedness standing by each, and waiting for the dismissal of the congregation to draw their superiors home.
"Lest the slightest misconception should arise from anything thrown out in this chapter, or indeed in any other part of the volume, let me here observe, that against the cause of missions in the abstract no Christian can possibly be opposed: it is in truth a just and holy cause. But if the great end proposed by it be spiritual, the agency employed to accomplish that end is purely earthly; and, although the object in view be the achievement of much good, that agency may nevertheless be productive of evil. In short, missionary undertaking, however it may be blessed of Heaven, is in itself but human ; and subject, like everything else, to errors and abuses. And have not errors and abuses crept into the most sacred places, and may there not be unworthy or incapable missionaries abroad, as well as ecclesiastics of a similar character at home? May not the unworthiness or incapacity of those who assume apostolic functions upon the remote islands of the sea more easily escape detection by the world at large than if it were displayed in the heart of a city? An unwarranted confidence in the sanctity of its apostles—a proneness to regard them as incapable of guile—and an impatience of the least suspicion as to their rectitude as men or Christians have ever been prevailing faults in the Church. Nor is this to be wondered at: for subject as Christianity is to the assaults of unprincipled foes, we are naturally disposed to regard everything like an exposure of ecclesiastical misconduct as the offspring of malevolence or irreligious feeling. Not even this last consideration, however, shall deter me from the honest expression of my sentiments.
There is something apparently wrong in the practical operations of the Sandwich Island Mission. Those who from pure religions motives contribute to the support of this enterprise, should take care to ascertain that their donations flowing through many devious channels, at last effect their legitimate object, the conversion of the Hawaiians. I urge this, not because I doubt the moral probity of those who disburse these funds, but because I know that they are not rightly applied. To read pathetic accounts of missionary hardships, and glowing descriptions of conversions, and baptisms taking place beneath palm-trees, is one thing; and to go to the Sandwich Islands and see the missionaries dwelling in picturesque and prettily-furnished coral-rock villas, whilst the miserable natives are committing all sorts of immoralitiy around them, is quite another.

In justice to the missionaries, however, I will willingly admit, that whatever evils may have resulted from their collective mismanagement of the business of the mission, and from the want of vital piety evinced by some of their number, still the present deplorable condition of the Sandwich Islands is by no means wholly chargeable against them. The demoralizing influence of a dissolute foreign population, and the frequent visits of all descriptions of vessels, have tended not a little to increase the evils alluded to. In a word, here, as in every case where civilisation has in any way been introduced among those whom we call savages, she has scattered her vices, and withheld her blessings. 
As wise a man as Shakspere has said, that the bearer of evil tidings hath but a losing office; and so I suppose will it prove with me, in communicating to the trusting friends of the Hawaiian Mission what has been disclosed in various portions of this narrative. I am persuaded, however, that as these disclosures will by their very nature attract attention, so they will lead to something which will not be without ultimate benefit to the cause of Christianity in the Sandwich Islands.

I have but one thing more to add in connection with this subject — those things which I have stated as facts will remain facts, in spite of whatever the bigoted or credulous may say or write against them. My reflections, however, on those facts may not be free from error. If such be the case, I claim no further indulgence than should be conceded to every man whose object is to do good."

 -- New York Sunday Dispatch, April 12, 1846. 


The Dispatch editor who supplied the flattering advance notice of Omoo, transcribed below, claimed an exceptionally close tie with the author in being privileged to examine Melville's second book before publication, in manuscript as well as printed proof sheets.

New York Sunday Dispatch - March 28, 1847

LITERARY. — 'TYPEE' AND 'OMOO.' — We learn by the last European steamer, that the new work by Herman Melville, author of Typee, is to be published by Murray, in London, about the first of April, and will be issued at the same time by the Messrs. Harper, of this city. Mr. Murray, in a note to a gentleman of the American legation, expressed a very high opinion of the work; and we have no hesitation in promising that the admirers of Typee will not be disappointed in this new production of its gifted author. 

It has been our especial good fortune to read each of these works, in advance of their publication; and the last we perused very carefully, both in the MSS. and proof. Our judgment of Typee was confirmed by that of the whole English and American press, and the author, by the very first stroke of his pen, found himself famous; and Typee will live long after civilization shall have desolated the beautiful Marquesas.

'Omoo,' the forthcoming work, has a wider scope, and a greater variety of interest. Its sea scenes are wonderfully vivid—its descriptions of the island scenery of Polynesia, enchanting; its account of life on shore, principally at the Society Islands, a series of pictures so full of graphic beauties, that they are impressed upon the memory forever. It is a great deal added to one's life to read a book like 'Omoo.'

--New York Sunday Dispatch, March 28, 1847 


New York Sunday Dispatch - May 9, 1847

TYPEE AND OMOO. — The man who has not read Typee, has in store a pleasure, upon which he has to be congratulated, and which he should hasten to enjoy. But beautiful and fascinating, and best of all, truthful as is Typee, Omoo we really believe to be the best book of the two. Nothing in the way of voyages and travels can we remember that can match it, for freshness, interest, and genuine humor—a spontaneous genial mirth, which is nowhere forced or labored, but which bubbles up all over the book, and makes it, aside from its other merits, most delightful reading.

Our contemporaries have not got over their queer notion of treating these books as fictions. They pay the author a great compliment, but they detract seriously from the value of the books, whose great and profound interest consists in their truth; and that they are absolutely real adventures and true descriptions can be testified by probably an hundred persons in this city.

We had intended to give a somewhat elaborate review of Omoo, with extracts from some of its finest chapters, but the publishers, with a meanness which is quite characteristic—and quite as despicable, have neglected to send us the work, and we did not procure it until our outside form was full, and further matter inadmissable.

But Omoo we commend as a very charming book, and Mr. Melville we rank with the best of living writers; at least, in this instructive and entertaining department of literature.

-- New York Sunday Dispatch, May 9, 1847  

The next item from the Sunday Dispatch of May 23, 1845 names editor Evert A. Duyckinck as the writer of the highly favorable review of Omoo in the first number of the American Literary Gazette and New York Weekly Mirror (May 21, 1847). Direct quotations establish this as the same unsigned review of Omoo published in the Evening Mirror on May 21, 1847; collected in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, edited by Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker (Cambridge University Press, 1995; paperback 2009) and transcribed there on pages 108-111. Duyckinck had already resigned when the Literary World reviewed Omoo on May 8, 1847. The review there is probably by his temporary replacement Charles Fenno Hoffman, as Parker suggests in the first volume of Herman Melville: A Biography, page 512.

New York Sunday Dispatch - May 23, 1847
THE AMERICAN LITERARY GAZETTE, is the new prefix title of the New York Weekly Mirror, which paper is placed under the editorial charge of Mr. Evert A. Duykinck, late editor of the Literary World—and now it occurs to us as highly probable, that this may be intended as a rival publication. It is to be devoted more to books and literary criticisms than heretofore, and it promises to be independant. This promise, in the very first number of the series is to a certain extent redeemed; for we have seldom seen a more fearless and decided condemnation of the Missionary enterprize and operations than occurs in the following passage, from a notice of the brilliant works of Herman Melville; Typee and Omoo. Mr. Duyckinck says:— "In sober truth these deluded philanthropists (the missionaries) have, by deluding others, built up an immense institution, requiring annually several hundred thousand dollars to support it; and now they are deluding the natives, with the idea that it is all for their good. This talk about glorious revivals among the heathens, is the veriest nonsense that every emanated from the muddled brains of madmen. A few ignorant islanders are harrangued into a state of mere animal phrenzy, frightened into the grossest absurdities, and finally reduced to a state of slavery—and all this is heralded as a grand triumph of religion!" 
He is certainly a bold writer, who in a community like this, dares avow such sentiments; and we begin to think that there is much truth in the report that he was too independant a writer to suit the views of the Booksellers, who publish the Literary World.

-- New York Sunday Dispatch, May 23, 1847 


New York Sunday Dispatch - July 18, 1847

A new play is now being performed at one of the theatres of Paris, founded on "Typee;" the author of which they call the Rev Herman Melville. If the "whig reviewer" see this, he will feel worse than ever. --New York Sunday Dispatch, July 18, 1847.


Somehow the Sunday Dispatch knew that Herman Melville was one of four brothers. That is, besides Herman's deceased brother Gansevoort Melville, the Dispatch also had information concerning his younger brothers Allan and Tom.

New York Sunday Dispatch - June 27, 1847

TYPEE AND OMOO.— Blackwood's for June has a review of the last of these extraordinary books, extending to fourteen pages, in the best style of that world renowned magazine, in which Herman Melville is called "the phœnix of modern voyagers, sprung, it would seem, from the mingled ashes of Captain Cook and Robinson Crusoe." Yet, while Blackwood's admits the full extent of the merit of these works, and of the general truthfulness of their narratives, it doubts that the author was a sailor before the mast, doubts that his real name is Herman Melville, or that he really has an uncle Gansevoort, of Saratoga County, to whom Omoo is dedicated.

To us this is amusing. Mr. Melville, the author of Typee and Omoo, is one of four brothers. The eldest, the late Gansevoort Melville, Esq., died Secretary of the American Legation near the Court of St. James. Herman Melville is apparently twenty eight years old, and has been a sailor before the mast in the Pacific; another brother, younger, if we mistake not, Allan Melville, Esq., is a lawyer and examiner in chancery, in Wall street; and the younger brother of the four, is now, if we mistake not, on a whaling voyage in the Indian Ocean; and may live to write books of voyages which will rival Omoo.

We state these facts thus particularly, because, when there is so much misapprehension abroad, there is likely to be some at home. 

-- New York Sunday Dispatch, June 27, 1847


On the same page of the Dispatch for June 27, 1847, the brief notice of Blackwood's magazine for June mentions only the article 

on our latest and freshest author, Herman Melville, the writer of "Typee" and "Omoo," two works which have taken and will hold rank, and to which reference is made in another column of this paper.

Strong affinity for the "strange and delightful" charms of Typee and the "spontaneous genial mirth" pervading Omoo did not stop the New York Sunday Dispatch from disliking Melville's third book Mardi, and saying so. More on that next time, hopefully.

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Friday, January 14, 2022

Remembering Gansevoort Melville

Gansevoort Melville
The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Portions of an "Interesting Letter / From London" dated June 18, 1846 appeared in the New York Sunday Dispatch on July 19, 1846. In one extract the writer, identified only as "an American gentleman," reveals that he knew Gansevoort Melville in London and laments his recent death. The rumor of Gansevoort's engagement there "to a beautiful and accomplished lady" is news to me.


You will, no doubt, hear of the death of Gansevoort Melville before this letter reaches you. Poor fellow, his death was sudden and unexpected, he was called from among us in the bloom of youth and full vigor of manhood, he was the delight of every circle in which he moved here, and, by his amiable disposition and the blandness of his manners raised up amongst the English people a host of friends for himself, and, if Madame Rumor is to be credited, had he lived for a few months longer, he would have been married to a beautiful and accomplished lady, who, in addition to her beauty and accomplishments, had fifty thousand golden charms. Peace to his remains.  

-- "Interesting Letter from London," New York Sunday Dispatch, July 19, 1846; found on

As will be shown, hopefully, in subsequent posts, the Sunday Dispatch warmly endorsed the first two books of Gansevoort's younger brother Herman Melville. 

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Thursday, January 13, 2022

Melville in the Middle: two wives, fine paintings, fake antiques, Frost's daughter and THE GRAND DAME at Arrowhead

Some facts of the historical mystery documented if not solved herein would be hard to swallow in fiction. The crazy-but-true plot involves Fine Art, admirable female entrepreneurs, fake antiques, multiple wives, a consummate New York confidence-man, the daughter of Robert Frost and an unattainable French Dame with Herman Melville in the middle of it all.... 

Still with me? OK good, buckle up.

Hardcore Melvilliana fans might remember Leonora O' Herron, the respected Pittsfield antiques dealer who conducted the estate sale at Arrowhead in the summer of 1927, after Herman Melville's nieces sold it to Robert E. Kimball. Along with all the usual household furnishings, the 1927 sale featured unspecified "books from the library of Herman Melville," as previously shown on Melvilliana:

Before the sale, Miss O'Herron had been working on the appraisal of more unique and valuable items, among which was a portrait in oil known locally as "The Grand Dame." A shady New York dealer named Wilbur J. Cooke tried to buy the alluring work when a friend of Miss O'Herron was minding the shop. The well-meaning friend who mistakenly sold The Grand Dame to Cooke for fifty dollars was Robert Frost's daughter Lesley W. Frost, then proprietor of the Open Book Shop in Pittsfield. For her part Miss Frost was innocent of any fraud, and too good to wonder why Mr. Cooke had to borrow the down payment of $5. 

When she found out what had happened, Miss O'Herron promptly returned the five bucks, whereupon Cooke took her to court. Verdict: No Sale. A few years later the New York dealer was exposed as a crook after selling a lot of fake Lowestoft china to a Boston collector. The gifted swindler dealt in fake paintings too, and sold at least one phony portrait of George Washington as the work of Gilbert Stuart. Acknowledged in the papers as "one of the cleverest art racketeers on record" (New York Daily News, April 2, 1933) Wilbur J. Cooke sought refuge in various mental hospitals in New York State.

[Special Dispatch to The Herald]

PITTSFIELD, March 29 -- Atty. Milton B. Warner, as master, found for the defendant today in a suit in equity filed in superior court by Wilbur J. Cooke of New York, dealer in portraits and antiques, against Miss Leonora O'Herron of 120 South street, Pittsfield, also a dealer in antiques, to recover a portrait valued at more than $350 called "The Grand Dame," owned by Maria G. Morewood and Catharine G. Melville of Elizabeth, N. J., heirs of Herman Melville, author.

The picture was taken from Melville's old home, Arrowhead, Pittsfield, to Miss O'Herron's shop for appraisal and sale. In her absence Oct. 23, last, it was sold for $50 by Miss Lesley T. Frost, who was in charge temporarily. Mr. Cooke made a deposit and said he would call later. When he appeared Oct. 28 and demanded the picture it was refused him. Mr. Warner found at the time it had not been appraised and Miss Frost had no authority to sell it. 

--Boston Herald, March 30, 1927.

A recap in the Berkshire Evening Eagle of March 2, 1933 stated that Allan Melville's daughters "had refused offers of $500" for the painting. Adjusting just for inflation that's $8,000 today, at least, irrespective of fluctuations in the market for rare art. Who was the woman portrayed as "The Grand Dame" in this unusual and pricey work? Berkshire journalists dubiously identified the subject as "the step mother of one of Herman Melville's wives." 

"As a matter of interest, Attorney Warner asked about the history of the portrait in question. Herman Melville, the author of "Moby Dick," who lived at Arrowhead, was twice married and the portrait depicts a stepmother of one of his wives. On account of its having always hung in the Melville, house, now owned by his nieces, Mrs. William Morewood and Miss Katherine Melville, it has a distinct Melville association, although not a portrait of a member of the Melville family."  -- The Berkshire County Eagle, December 10, 1926. 
"The painting was of the step mother of one of Herman Melville's wives and was taken from "Arrowhead," home of the famous writer of sea stories on Holmes road."
-- Berkshire County Eagle, April 6, 1927 

More generously, if not accurately or helpfully, a later report in the same newspaper gave Herman Melville three wives: 

"The portrait was of the stepmother of one of Melville's three wives, and the painting is believed to have been executed abroad."  -- Berkshire County Eagle, July 14, 1927.
14 Jul 1927, Thu The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts)
Not counting Fayaway in Typee


Melville had only one wife we know of, Elizabeth Shaw Melville aka "Lizzie." Her step-mother was Hope Savage Shaw. Whose portrait, if they owned one, presumably would have gone with Lizzie and Herman when they left Pittsfield. Instead of Melville's mother-in-law the second Mrs. Lemuel Shaw, a more likely family connection might be Catherine Van Schaick Gansevoort (1752 - 1830), Herman Melville's maternal grandmother. 

The Arrowhead Grand Dame was certainly NOT the portrait by Ezra Ames inherited by Peter Gansevoort Jr. and now owned by the Albany Institute of History & Art, according to the Smithsonian Catalog of American Portraits.
Mrs. Peter Gansevoort (Catherina Van Schaick)

However, companion portraits of Catherine Van Schaick Gansevoort and Peter Gansevoort were in fact donated in 1985 to the Berkshire County Historical Society. Formerly, as reported in the Berkshire Eagle on December 13, 1985, both portraits "hung at Arrowhead for a number of years." Maybe Herman's maternal grandmother Catherine was the mysterious and elusive Grand Dame.

Then again, misinformed newspaper accounts of the "Grand Dame" dispute in 1926-7 appear to confuse the famous author Herman Melville with his younger brother Allan Melville, who acquired the "Arrowhead" home in 1863 when Herman and family left Pittsfield MA and moved back to New York City. Mrs. Morewood and Miss Katherine Melville, owners of Arrowhead in 1927, were daughters of Allan and his first wife Sophia Eliza Thurston Melville. ALLAN Melville not Herman had two wives. Allan's second wife Jane Louise Dempsey Melville was the stepmother of Allan's daughters, Herman's nieces. The mother of their stepmother Jane was was Jane Ellis, wife of Peter Dempsey. Was Jane Ellis Dempsey the original Grand Dame

Again maybe, although in addition to the Melville family tie, other conditions in the newspaper descriptions require the portrait-sitter herself to have been a stepmother, ideally one with French connections to justify the aristocratic title and foreign origin ascribed to The Grand Dame,
"believed to have been executed abroad."
Here's another more promising angle. Besides Herman's younger brother Allan, another Melville with multiple wives was their uncle Thomas Melvill, Jr. The first wife of Major Thomas Melvill Jr was "Fanny" Fleury aka Françoise Raymonde Eulogue Marie des Doulouers "Fanny" Lamé-Fleury. Aka Françoise Lamé-Fleury. Call her Fanny. Thomas Jr. and Fanny got married in 1802, in Paris. As avowed in writing by Charlotte Hoadley (Herman Melville's niece), the Melville family steadfastly regarded this Fanny as "an adopted daughter of Madame Recamier" and held "that she was married to Thomas Melville from Madame Recamier's salon."

Voilà! Family tradition thus qualifies Madame Récamier as the stepmother of "one of Herman Thomas Melville's wives." In this view of the case, Berkshire commentators in 1926-7 wrongly assigned the first wife of Thomas Melville, Jr. to his famous nephew Herman. Let's say The Grand Dame depicted the celebrated French beauty and Salon hostess Juliette Récamier, That would explain the Frenchified title and supposedly "foreign" provenance of our controversial and much coveted painting.

Gros Jean Antoine Portrait of Mademoiselle Recamier

Copies of famous paintings of Madame Récamier by François Gérard and Jacques-Louis David are listed in a miscellaneous inventory made by Herman's wife Elizabeth Shaw Melville. From the memoranda of Elizabeth Shaw Melville, transcribed by Merton M. Sealts, Jr. in The Early Lives of Melville (University of Wisconsin Press, 1974) pages 167-177 at 176:

<Madam Recamier by Gerard-costume of Consulate-bare feet and neck on a Roman chair in a niche beneath a pillared arch-Same by David represents her leaning back on a rustic seat>

In a footnote Sealts points out that Elizabeth Melville's entry on images of "Madam Recamier" has been canceled in pencil. The crossed-out listing could mean these items were sold or bequeathed after Herman Melville's death in 1891, as John Bryant guesses in the first volume of Herman Melville: A Half Known Life (Wiley-Blackwell, 2021). Not that either of these items is THE Grand Dame, necessarily. They seem to be prints, whereas contemporary newspaper accounts specifically describe The Grand Dame as an oil painting. Nevertheless, the references to well-known paintings by Gerard and David in Elizabeth Melville's memoranda certainly attest to her familiarity with popular images of Madame Récamier. And her husband's, presumably.

What about Wilbur J. Cooke, brilliant mastermind of a notorious and doubtlessly profitable fake-antiques ring? Here are a few more facts in that matter... Formerly he lived in Philadelphia. There, as a young man, his impressive physique earned him work as an artist's model, according to one report that circulated widely after his first marriage. (More on that below.) Cooke was indeed his real name, although Boston authorities accused him of employing at least one alias, H. W. Welch or Welsh. Born William Wilbur James Cooke on October 21, 1884 to Maryette or Mariette Woodbeck Cooke (1847-1919) and Elias Henry Cooke (1845-1899). Cooke died of heart disease on December 8, 1955 in Middletown, New York. How he landed there may be the craziest part of the whole story. 

Boston cops doggedly looked for and, after years of searching, finally found Wilbur J. Cooke at Interpines sanitarium, a mental hospital in Goshen, New York. Soon as they learned of his whereabouts, the police issued a warrant for his arrest and extradition to Massachusetts. 
Because Supreme Court Justice Graham Witschief could find no evidence that gray-haired, dreamy-eyed Wilbur J. Cooke, alleged swindler and fugitive from Massachusetts' justice, is insane, he refused to grant appointment of a lunacy commission when application was made before him in a special term at Newburgh yesterday.

Cooke, who was brought into court on a writ of habeus corpus, was remanded to the Goshen County jail until next Friday, when his attorney, Charles A. White, hopes to present evidence to warrant the appointment of a commission.

Cooke has been a patient at Interpines Sanitarium in Goshen for a year, unknown to Massachusetts police, who have been on his trail.  -- Newburgh, NY Beacon News, March 11, 1933; found on

02 Mar 1933, Thu St. Louis Globe-Democrat (St. Louis, Missouri)

Incredible as it seems, Cooke managed to avoid criminal charges and extradition to Massachusetts. 

GOSHEN -- Wilbur J. Cooke, arrested at Interpines here yesterday as a fugitive from justice at request of the Boston Police Department sat in a hospital cell in the county jail today attired in pajamas and a lounging robe and working a jig saw puzzle while all concerned awaited the next move....

 ... The prisoner has been talkative in jail and has seemed to prefer religion as a topic of conversation. Pajamas, a lounging robe, and slippers were brought to the jail by an attendant at the sanatorium.  -- Middletown Times Herald, March 3, 1933.

In the last hour, literally, an influential sister, Emma Cooke Chase of Monticello, helped persuade a judge to find him insane after all. Wilbur Cooke's official medical diagnosis, made by two sanitarium doctors (Frederick W. Seward Jr. and Clarence A. Porter), was dementia praecox, premature or "precocious madness." Instead of enduring a trial and serious prison time for larceny, he got legally committed to the State Homeopathic Hospital at Middletown, New York. 

In yet another twist, it turned out that Wilbur J. Cooke's second wife was a very wealthy lady. 

09 Nov 1916, Thu Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania)

The second wife of William Wilbur James Cooke died in late November 1933. Mrs. Rosa F. Huyler Cooke willed her estate to husband Wilbur and two sons from her previous marriage to candy maker John S. Huyler. Years later, a New York jury awarded a portion of Wilbur's inheritance, $50,000 plus $20,000 interest, to Clinton I. Nash, one of the Boston art collectors whom Cooke had defrauded (Middletown Times Herald, April 9, 1937). Wilbur still resided at the State Hospital in Middletown. 

04 Dec 1933, Mon Middletown Times Herald (Middletown, New York)
In case you're wondering, Cooke had married suspiciously well the first time around, too. Born in 1842, Jane F. Levick Jackson, daughter of Quaker diarist and abolitionist Samuel J. Levick, was actually 68 when she rather unexpectedly married young and good-looking William W. J. Cooke, then described as "an artist's model, big, broad-shouldered, and 25" (Washington Post, October 19, 1910; reprinting an article in the Philadelphia North American in which Cooke's bride was alleged to be 77 years old). Jane L. Jackson Cooke died four years later in 1914; and two years after that Cooke wedded the former Mrs. John S. Huyler.

When Wilbur J. Cooke was first apprehended at Interpines in Goshen, NY the Berkshire Eagle eagerly rehearsed the great Pittsfield drama surrounding The Grand Dame, affirming by the way that the "picture" once "had belonged to the late Herman Melville."
Cooke is remembered in Pittsfield for his suit against Miss Leonora O'Herron, proprietor of an antique shop on South Street. In Miss O'Herron's absence, a portrait was sold, by mistake, to his agent by a volunteer assistant, Mrs. Leslie Frost Francis. She was unaware of the fact that the picture had been left by the owners who had refused offers of $500 for it.

The picture had belonged to the late Herman Melville, the author, and was owned by his heirs. Cooke's agents bought the picture for $50 and paid $5 down, getting a receipt but leaving the picture pending payment in full. When Miss O'Herron returned his deposit and refused to sell the picture, Cooke brought suit, the case being tried by attorney Milton B. Warner as master. Mrs. Doran was one of Cooke's witnesses at the trial. Cooke lost and appealed to the superior court, but the case was dropped before coming to trial.

The Morewood family in New York, owners of the picture, decided to keep it and still have it in their possession.  -- Berkshire Evening Eagle, March 2, 1933

Who got the Morewoods' Grand Dame and where is she now?