Thursday, January 18, 2024

Syndicated in Cincinnati, and beyond: Melville's 1885 poem "The Admiral of the White"

Cincinnati Weekly Times-Star - May 21, 1885
Found on

So MACSWELL spilled the beans in Buffalo.

In the latter half of May 1885, as previously revealed here on Melvilliana, a New York City correspondent of the Buffalo Courier named Walter Langdon Russ (1852-1930) aka "Macswell" informed readers of a scheme to get the justly forgotten author Herman Melville Resuscitated by mass-marketing "The Admiral of the White," a mysterious and thrilling sea-tale in verse that Melville would slightly revise and re-title "The Haglets" for private publication in John Marr and Other Sailors (1888). 
Writing from Manhattan on May 21, 1885 Macswell reported having seen Melville's new poem "printed in one of our morning papers last Sunday." As the New York correspondent of the Buffalo Courier understood things, the same poem "was printed at the same time, I believe, in other papers, east and west." Macswell blamed a young, wealthy, and ambitious media mogul for the irritating attempt to rescue Melville from oblivion:
Mr. Thorndyke Rice, the ingenious editor of the North American Review, is, I am told, responsible for his resuscitation.
C. Allen Thorndike Rice March 1883

Turns out, Macswell was right. Charles Allen Thorndike Rice (1851-1889), a pioneer of the press syndicate, evidently had enlisted Melville with other talented writers in a new cultural project to entertain more high-minded readers of popular American periodicals with excellent literary works by the best authors. The innovative manner of mass publication appealed to publishers and authors, too, as mutually beneficial. Ellery Sedgwick explains:

S. S. McClure, Charles Dana, and Thorndike Rice had also begun their syndicates that brought fiction from authors and sold publication rights to newspapers across the country...both the illustrated magazines and the syndicates very significantly increased the dollar value of literature and the potential for making a living by writing it.

Sedgwick, Ellery. “Magazines and the Profession of Authorship in the United States, 1840–1900.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 94, no. 3, 2000, pp. 399–425. JSTOR, Accessed 18 Jan. 2024.

Samuel Sidney McClure acknowledged Thorndike Rice as a former and at one time formidable rival in the syndicate business:

Of course, as soon as my syndicate began to pay, other syndicates were started. The most powerful of these was started by Allan Thorndyke Rice, editor of the North American Review. My friends and many of the editors I served thought such a competitor would be too much for me. I remember that at this time Miss Sarah Orne Jewett, who wrote for the syndicate and took a friendly interest in my business, wrote me to ask whether I could not form some combination with Mr. Rice to avoid being wiped out. Mr. Rice's syndicate was very strong for a time, but eventually it died out without seriously cutting into my business.
-- My Autobiography (New York, 1914) pages 182-183.

The "morning paper" in which Macswell had seen "The Admiral of the White" must have been the New York Tribune. Melville fans have long known about the Tribune printing of Melville's poem on May 17, 1885, and another, more complete version on the same date in the Boston Herald. The text of Herman Melville's "The Haglets" in John Marr closely follows that of "The Admiral of the White" as previously published in the Boston Herald and, incompletely, in the New York Tribune. Before now only those two newspaper versions of Herman Melville's 1885 poem have been recorded in Melville scholarship. The New York and Boston printings of "The Admiral of the White" are discussed in editorial notes on "The Haglets" for the 2009 Northwestern-Newberry edition of Melville's Published Poems, edited by Robert C. Ryan, Harrison Hayford, Alma MacDougall Reising and G. Thomas Tanselle, at pages 725-726. Both newspaper printings, the Boston Herald version and the "abridged" New York Tribune version, are referenced also in notes on the manuscript version of "The Admiral of the White" (a different poem with the same title) in the back of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition of Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Uncompleted Writings, edited by G. Thomas Tanselle, Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, Robert Sandberg and Alma MacDougall Reising, at page 888. 

Only the "complete" Boston Herald and "abridged" New York Tribune versions of "The Admiral of the White" are referenced in Robert Sandberg's "Note on the Texts" for Herman Melville: Complete Poems (Library of America No. 320, 2019) page 930. Edited by Hershel Parker, the LOA edition of Complete Poems has "The Haglets" on pages 677-683 and the uncollected manuscript poem "The Admiral of the White" (which is not the 1885 poem with the same title) on pages 865-866.

A good reading text of Melville's poem "The Haglets" is conveniently accessible online courtesy of

For explication you can find "The Haglets" helpfully discussed by William H. Shurr in The Mystery of Iniquity (University Press of Kentucky, 1972) at pages 130-134; 

and, more recently, by Peter Riley in "The Fair Poet's Name": Late Poems, Chapter 14 in A New Companion to Herman Melville, edited by Wyn Kelley and Christopher Ohge (Wiley Blackwell, 2022) pages 171-183 at 177.

Long unacknowledged in Melville studies, Allen Thorndike Rice's role in the newspaper syndication of "The Admiral of the White" seems confirmed by the publication of his name as copyright holder in the heading of a previously unknown printing of Melville's poem in the Cincinnati Weekly Times-StarHeadings in both the New York Tribune and Boston Herald versions merely stated "Copyright, 1885," below the title and (in the NY Tribune version) author credit. 

Boston Sunday Herald - May 17, 1885

The Cincinnati version places the copyright statement within brackets, above the title:
[Copyrighted by Allen Thorndike Rice.]

Admiral of the White. 

Cincinnati Weekly Times-Star - May 21, 1885

As published on May 21, 1885 in the Weekly Times-Star, the byline further asserts that the original poem was "Written for the Times." Presumably the weekly edition of the Cincinnati Times-Star copied "Admiral of the White" from the Sunday Times where it had appeared according to schedule on Sunday, May 17, 1885, the same day it definitely debuted in New York and Boston. Unfortunately, the Sunday edition is not currently included in the files of the Cincinnati Times-Star at NewspaperArchive. After renewing my subscription there I did find "The Admiral of the White" reprinted on May 21, 1885 in the weekly edition of the Cincinnati Times Star. In terms of length, the Cincinnati text of Admiral of the White matches the complete Boston Herald version, rather than the Tribune abridgment. Some words and expressions (Admiral, Plate Fleet, and Milky Way) in the Cincinnati version are treated as proper nouns with the first letter of each word capitalized, where the Boston Herald version uses all lower case letters, at least early on. Among other minor differences, the Cincinnati version 
  • reads "Laced Sleeves" (as in the New York Tribune version) where the Boston Herald gives "Lace Sleeves"; 
  • does not italicize "A tomb or a trophy" (italicized in the New York and Boston texts); 
  • punctuates "sculptured Fate!" with an exclamation mark; 
  • has "hatted" as in the NY Tribune where Boston Herald reads "hated"; and
  • reads "No less content" where the Boston Herald and New York Tribune both have "Nor less content."

As I found in files of the daily edition (excluding Sunday, as noted above), also via Newspaper Archive, the plan for simultaneous publication in multiple U. S. cities (including the western towns of Chicago, IL and St. Paul, MN) had been explicitly and repeatedly advertised by the Cincinnati Times-Star. On May 14, 1885, for example, the Cincinnati Times-Star announced that "'Admiral of the White,' by Herman Melville" would appear with other "SPECIAL PAPERS" in the Sunday edition of May 17th.

Cincinnati Times-Star
May 14, 1885


In the SUNDAY TIMES-STAR of next Sunday, May 17, will be:

"Admiral of the White," by Herman Melville, author of "Typee, or Life in the Marquesas," "Moby Dick," etc.

"Charles Kingsley," by Canon Farrar.

"A Letter of Marque," by Gail Hamilton.

"The Doctrines of the Flag," by Hon. James H. Gerard.

These papers will be found of especial interest to the better class of newspaper readers. They appear simultaneously in the New York Tribune, Boston Herald, Philadelphia Press, Detroit Post, St. Paul Pioneer-Press, and Chicago Times.

In addition to the special papers, the SUNDAY TIMES-STAR contains all local and telegraphic news and as much general matter as one has time to read. Everything is presented in an attractive and convenient manner, so that the reader who devotes a reasonable time to his paper can be sure that he has not missed any news of great importance.

Price Three Cents.

The advertisement transcribed above lists six newspapers in addition to the Cincinnati Times-Star that were then engaged in Thorndike Rice's newspaper syndicate, apparently, and thus committed to simultaneous publication on Sunday, May 17, 1885 of Melville's "Admiral of the White" and other works "of especial interest to the better class of newspaper readers." The Cincinnati Times or Times-Star would make a seventh, thus:

  1. New York Tribune ✅
  2. Boston Herald ✅
  3. Philadelphia Press
  4. Detroit Post
  5. St. Paul Pioneer-Press ✅ verified 02/29/2024
  6. Chicago Times
  7. Cincinnati Times-Star

Versions of Melville's poem in two of the six newspapers we already knew about, the New York Tribune and Boston Herald, as explained already. That leaves four more to investigate. Well, five if you count the Sunday edition of the Cincinnati Times-Star that I have not yet located. Being in Minnesota, of course I feel duty-bound to begin with the Pioneer Press down in St. Paul. Alas, for the specific date of Sunday, May 17, 1885 our Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub only gives images from the St. Paul Daily Globe and Minneapolis Daily Tribune. 

Yikes! this could be harder than I thought. Clearly there's plenty more to look for, besides more printings than we knew about of Melville's 1885 poem. For instance, does any correspondence survive between Melville and Allen Thorndike Rice? Did Melville ever formally transfer the copyright for "The Admiral of the White"? Or sign a contract?

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