Saturday, June 8, 2024

Charles Cromwell Ingham, "the portrait painter" Herman's sister Helen Melville met in Lenox

Ingham not Inman was "the portrait painter" Helen Melville met in September 1841, socializing with Lemuel Shaw and family in Lenox, Berkshire County MA. Her and Herman's brother Gansevoort was there too. I liked to imagine Herman somewhere Off Tahiti at the time, but in truth he would not really get there until 1842. In September 1841 when his sister Helen and brother Gansevoort were at Lenox enjoying the company of Sedgwicks, Shaws, and Charles Ingham the portrait painter, Herman was whaling away on the Acushnet, near the equator. Still broad upon the waters of the Pacific Ocean, with a month and more to pass before his ship would reach the Gal├ípagos Islands. 

Charles Cromwell Ingham, ca. 1860.
Macbeth Gallery records, 1947-1948. Archives of American Art,
Smithsonian Institution

Herman's sister Helen Melville, writing from Lansingburgh, New York to Augusta Melville (then in Bath, a town in Steuben County, New York) on October 10, 1841:
"... Here is almost the end of my third page, and not a word has been said about my weeks visit to the East, the only thing that has broken in upon the monotony of my existence since the early Spring. We had a delightful time. Miss Sedgwick was staying there too, and then at ... hotel were all the Judges, (it being court week) all of ... most delightful companions. Judge Shaw & his dear lady wife, were most affectionate indeed to me. I could scarcely credit that persons comparatively strangers should take such a warm interest in Gan. & myself. Gan staid at the Hotel, but spent all his evenings with us, and made all together a most delightful coterie, what with the judges, judges ladies, Miss S. & Mr. Ingham the portrait painter, who was on a professional visit there. Mrs Shaw insists upon my making her a long visit this winter in Boston; both herself & husband gave me the most pressing & earnest invitations, & Mama says I may go, if there is any way for me to reach there short of Gan's taking me, which of course should not be thought of."


Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "Melville (Griggs), Helen" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1835 - 1863.


Helen Melville would have stayed and socialized with Charles Sedgwick and his wife Elizabeth Sedgwick, Helen's former teacher. I suppose "Miss Sedgwick" must be Catharine Maria Sedgwick the famous novelist who definitely was in Lenox at that time, September 1841. Charles Ingham had painted the portrait of C. M. Sedgwick many years before. 

Who then is "Miss S."? Melville biographers readily identify her as Miss Elizabeth Knapp Shaw, Helen's future sister-in-law. Other candidates possibly worth considering would be the aforementioned authoress Catharine Maria Sedgwick; or Helen's then-unmarried friend Kate aka "Kitty," Katharine Sedgwick Minot (daughter of Charles Sedgwick and Elizabeth Buckminster Dwight Sedgwick); or another, evidently older "Miss Shaw" in the Shaw household, mentioned twice in Helen's letter to Augusta from Boston dated November 27, 1843. 

Hershel Parker gives the fullest treatment of Helen Melville's 1841 interactions with the Shaw family in Herman Melville: A Biography Volume 1, 1819-1851 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). Parker's excerpt from Helen's letter of October 10, 1841 to Augusta appears on page 301. As can be seen above in the image from Helen's letter in the Augusta Melville papers, now accessible via NYPL Digital Collections, Charles Ingham not Henry Inman was "the portrait painter" then making "a professional visit" to the Sedgwicks in Lenox. Attending closely to Helen's experience of Boston theatricals and tableaux vivants during her extended visits to Boston in 1842-3, John Bryant makes good use of Helen's later letters to Augusta in the second volume of Herman Melville: A Half Known Life (Wiley Blackwell, 2021) at pages 1135-1144. 

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