Monday, January 15, 2024

BENITO CERENO praised in Oquawka, maybe by Edwin H. N. Patterson

Established in February 1848 by John Barton Patterson (1805-1890), the Oquawka Spectator was a weekly newspaper published in the busy Mississippi River port of Oquawka, Illinois. As announced on the masthead, the Spectator aimed to be family friendly and "neutral in politics and religion." Founder J. B. Patterson, formerly of Winchester, Virginia, had served as a private with the Illinois Militia during the Black Hawk War and famously edited and published the 1834 Life of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak or Black Hawk. Patterson's son Edwin Howard Norton Patterson (1828-1880) became the assistant editor and in 1849 took over "the management of the Spectator and its job-printing office" according to Mary Elizabeth Phillips in Edgar Allan Poe, the Man Volume 2 (John C. Winston Co., 1926). 
E. H. N. Patterson
via Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore

Edwin (called "Edward" in some sources, apparently in error) journeyed further west in 1850 looking for better health and California gold, but he was back in Illinois before the end of 1851. During his absence from Oquawka, the younger Patterson contributed first-hand sketches of the "Overland Route" to California and evidently retained his connection to the Spectator as Junior Editor. E. H. N. Patterson married the former Miss Laura Phelps in Oquawka on New Year's Day 1852, as reported in the Oquawka Spectator for January 7, 1852. 

Both E. H. N. Patterson and his father J. B. Patterson were named on the masthead as co-editors of the Oquawka Spectator when Melville's short fiction "Benito Cereno" (just concluded in the December issue of Putnam's Monthly) was praised on December 7, 1855 as "the best tale we have read for a long time." "Benito Cereno" originally appeared in three installments, published in the October, November, and December 1855 issues of Putnam's magazine. Before the December review, the Oquawka Spectator of November 9, 1855 already had remarked "a continuation of that unique story of 'Benito Cereno'" in the November issue of Putnam's. Either editor might have contributed unsigned literary notices of Putnam's Monthly Magazine, including the one transcribed below. Tentative assignment to E. H. N. Patterson seems most appealing in view of the younger Patterson's known affinity for the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, with whom he had corresponded in high hopes of establishing a new literary magazine in western Illinois with his hero at the helm. 
PUTNAM"S MONTHLY:— Dix & Edwards, N. Y. Terms: $3 per annum; the Monthly & Household Words $5; the Monthly or Household Words, with the School fellow $3.50; all three $5.50.
The December number of this leading Magazine is before us. The contents embrace nineteen choice articles, and copious Editorial Notes. As articles especially pleasing we may enumerate "How I came to be married," "The Virginia Springs," "Low Life in the Sahara," "The Green Lakes of Onondaga," and "Benito Cereno." The latter is concluded in this number; and is the best tale we have read for a long time—the style and manner of the lamented POE are closely imitated. The literature of Putnam is of the highest order, and has gained it a lofty position. For the coming year, the publishers promise an increasing excellence in every department, but we can assure the public that it is good enough now.

-- Oquawka Spectator & Keithsburg Observer, December 7, 1855.

Later, the influence of Poe on the book version of "Benito Cereno" was suggested in a review of The Piazza Tales that appeared in the New York Dispatch on June 8, 1856. For the New York reviewer, "Benito Cereno"

"opens with a mysticism which reminds us of Edgar Poe's prose tales, and this mysticism is admirably preserved, even deepening in every character to the end, when all appears as clear as the sun at noon-day."

Accessible online via, the New York Dispatch review of The Piazza Tales is helpfully transcribed in Herman Melville: the Contemporary Reviews, edited by Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker (Cambridge University Press, 1995) at page 477.

New York Dispatch - June 8, 1856

E. H. N. Patterson's "youthful" and "ardent" fascination with Poe is discussed by Mary E. Phillips in Edgar Allan Poe, the Man Volume 2 (John C. Winston Co., 1926) at page 1401:

September, 1835, J. B. Patterson, of Winchester, Va., settled at Oquawka, Ill. A year later, joined by his wife and son—Edward H. N. Patterson, a young man of literary taste and ability—the elder Patterson founded the weekly Oquawka Spectator. Prudently reared in all ways, and in constant touch with the best books and magazine literature, Edward H. N. Patterson came of age January, 1849. Then his father turned over to him the management of the Spectator and its job-printing office. Full of youthful confidence, he cherished the ambition of making a name in the world of letters. Among those who stood for conspicuous eminence in American literature of that time was Edgar Allan Poe, who, as a journalist, young Patterson had followed from Editor Poe's Southern Literary Messenger days to the passing on of his Broadway Journal, with fascinated admiration for the poet's genius. For Poe's endless and varied adversities, Patterson felt and expressed an ardent sympathy. Thereby and then, he was moved, December, 1848, to make to Poe a letter appeal to come West and join him in a new periodical venture.
For more on the younger Patterson's unrealized scheme to engage Edgar Allan Poe as editor of a new literary journal in Oquawka, check out

05 May 1880, Wed The Rock Island Argus (Rock Island, Illinois)

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