Lynn Horth (ed.), The Writings of Herman Melville: The Northwestern-Newberry Edition, Vol. 14: Correspondence

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pg 773Historical Note

The letters by and to Melville in this volume span the greater part of his lifetime, extending from letters he wrote at the age of nine in 1828 to ones he sent and received during the year before his death at seventy-two in 1891. The best of his own letters, some of them now anthology classics, are brilliantly revealing. These reflect the meteoric rise and excitement of his early literary career, from 1846 to 1851, as well as its equally precipitous subsequent fall; and the fullest and boldest of them, those to Evert A. Duyckinck, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., and especially Nathaniel Hawthorne, were written at the pinnacle of that brief career. Yet Melville's letters through the years, even with their sporadic flashings-forth, were mostly occasional, businesslike, and never gossipy, expansive, or voluminous. The paucity of his actual as well as of his preserved correspondence contrasts surprisingly with the gregarious rush of to-and-fro epistolary traffic engaged in by such American literary contemporaries as Emerson, Longfellow, Whitman, Simms, Hawthorne, and even the soul-selective Emily Dickinson, to say nothing of the great English and Continental men and women of letters in his time.

Presented here in one sequence are the 313 texts, newly edited, that are known to survive of letters by Melville, and for the first time, in a separate sequence, the 88 texts that are known to survive pg 774of letters to him. Taken together, however, these surviving texts provide only a spotty chronicle of Melville's outer, and intermittent revelations of his inner, life. They provide so little not only because by all indications he wrote relatively few, and mostly sparse, letters but also because so many of those he did write, and receive, have been lost or destroyed. He himself, as he declared, habitually destroyed letters he received, including those he had prized from Hawthorne; and his daughter or some other too-proper descendant in the twentieth century lamentably destroyed his numerous letters to his wife.1 Consequently, to fill the gaps within the correspondence, 542 editorial entries are chronologically interspersed for letters both by and to Melville for which no full text has been located but for which some evidence survives. These entries, like the editorial headnotes for the known letters, flesh out the specific historical and biographical contexts for the unlocated letters. Both supply the editor's full annotations, placing circumstances, persons, and allusions, from a wide range of documentary and scholarly sources, and drawing upon family archives of both Melville and his wife, including the correspondence in the recently recovered portion, now in the New York Public Library, of a trove preserved by his sister Augusta.2

The three sections of this Historical Note discuss Melville's aloof role in the close-knit family letter-writing world of widowed mother, three brothers, four sisters, and numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins; his limited though at times full-hearted letter-writing engagement with his editors and congenial fellow writers in the professional literary world he entered in 1846 with the publication of his first book, Typee, and, briefly, the long delayed valuing and at last the scholarly editing and publishing of his letters.


Had Herman's father, Allan Melvill, not died in 1832 leaving his wife and eight children in near-poverty, letters need not have come pg 775to play so vital a role in the Melville family (as the name came to be spelled after Allan's death). But without him, Allan's widow, Maria Gansevoort Melville, and her children depended on letters as an emotional and economic lifeline. With their self-enclosed prosperous world shattered by his death, all three older sons, Gansevoort, Herman, and his namesake, Allan, were forced to spend long periods separated from the family, working for its common support. The first summer after his father's death, thirteen-year-old Herman had to leave the rural safety of Pittsfield, where the family had fled from a cholera epidemic in Albany, to return to his job as clerk in an Albany bank. When he did not answer a letter from his oldest sister, Helen, she included a strongly worded rebuke in a letter of 8 August 1832 to their uncle Peter Gansevoort, with whom Melville was staying: "I am sorry that my brother Herman cannot find time to answer my last, but tell him I am expecting a letter every day and shall be sadly disappointed if I return to Albany before he writes" (NYPL-GL).3 The desired reply was not a matter of social pleasantry, but of family unity.4

Whether Melville answered his sister is not known, although very likely he did, given her insistent tone and the fact that she addressed her complaint to their uncle Peter, who was Herman's employer and guardian at the time. Yet the wider implication is that young Herman was less than a faithful correspondent during his early travels. Between 1832 and 1840, he journeyed to Pittsfield (where he ran his uncle Thomas's farm in the summer of 1837 and then taught school the following autumn), to Liverpool (to which he voyaged in 1839 aboard a merchant ship as a common sailor), to Greenbush, New York (where he taught school in the winter of pg 7761839–40), and to Galena, Illinois (where he visited his uncle Thomas and unsuccessfully looked for work), before embarking on 3 January 1841 as a common sailor aboard the Acushnet, bound for the South Pacific. Only nine letters from this eight-year period are known to survive, and few additional ones can be inferred. And of the known letters, two to his brother Allan are tongue-in-cheek notes rather than the earnest letters of a distant brother.

Early on, Melville's role in the family correspondence seems to have been more as a postman than as a regular participant. In 1840, his sister Helen portrayed him as such in her letter of 5 January from Lansingburgh to their sister Augusta, who was staying at their uncle Peter's home in Albany: "Herman leaves directly after church, and I must therefore write you a few lines now.… Mamma sends her best love to you, & says you must write a letter every Thursday, so that Allan can give it to our family post-man [Herman] on Friday" (NYPL-GL). As the family moved from place to place, Herman continued to carry letters between Lansingburgh and Albany, New York and Pittsfield, Boston and Pittsfield, and Albany and New York.5

By contrast Herman's older brother Gansevoort and younger brother Allan were devoted correspondents with their mother when away from home during the family's early struggles. (Gansevoort Melville, after the failure of his fur and cap store in Albany during the panic of 1837, left for New York to establish himself there as a lawyer and later embarked on a political career, which included a three-month stump-speaking tour in 1844 on behalf of the presidential candidacy of James K. Polk. Allan Melville remained in Albany as a clerk when the rest of the family moved to Lansingburgh in 1838, and later moved to New York to study law in Gansevoort's pg 777office.) Did Herman write dutiful letters during these years to his mother like Gansevoort and Allan?6 If so, they have left no trace.

Yet it is unlikely that Melville was oblivious to the role letters played in his family even if he was not always an active writer of them.7 His letter of 13 October 1844 (now unlocated) announcing his return from the Pacific elicited an overwhelmed reply from his brother Allan on 17 October:

    I need not express to you my feelings when I opened your letter dated at Boston on the 13 inst … this morning. You can imagine that they overcame me. I was indeed unprepared for such good fortune and trembled while perusing your epistle — a prayer of gratitude played upon my lips — & I thanked the Giver of all good for your safe return. Herman! we are once more all together & I pray God that we may never be seperated more.

In fact, the family was still separated, with Gansevoort and Allan in New York and their mother and sisters in Lansingburgh; and shortly afterwards on 31 July 1845 Gansevoort left for his new diplomatic post in London—the fruit of all of his political stumping. Less than a year later the family was then separated irrevocably from him when he unexpectedly died there on 12 May 1846. His last letter to Herman, written on 3 April, reiterated the importance letters carried in the family. In it he complained of Allan's not keeping him adequately informed about the family's finances and so causing his thoughts to be "so much at home that much of my time is spent in disquieting apprehensions as to matters & things there." Such anguish is not unusual in nineteenth-century family letters. But had the Melville family somehow been able to remain intact in one place, that pain would have been reserved for its less immediate members. More typical would have been the concern Melville felt in 1847 at the news of the illness of Judge Lemuel Shaw, the father of his intended bride, Elizabeth Shaw—a concern which not he but his mother described in a letter of 15 June to her daughter Helen, who was staying with the Shaws in Boston: "Mr C. pg 778P. sent us the Lowell paper containing a rather serious account of Judge Shaws illness. We waited anxiously for the mail which brought your letter, we were much reliev'd after reading it, and most sincerely hope that he is getting better. Poor Herman felt very bad — but your letter had the effect of recalling his spirits & he is again as he has been since his return from Boston, perfectly happy" (NYPL-GL). For Maria Melville and her family such anxiety was all too frequent, and sometimes their hope was defeated. When Melville wrote his last letter to his brother Gansevoort on 29 May, he began it optimistically, attempting to allay his brother's anxieties about the family:

My Dear Gansevoort — I look forward to three weeks from now, & think I see you openning this letter in [one] of those pleasant hamlets roundabout London, of which we read in novels. At any rate I pray Heaven that such may be the case & that you are mending rapidly. Remember that composure of mind is every thing. You should give no thought to matters here, until you are well enough to think about them. As far as I know they are in good train.

What Melville did not know was that Gansevoort had died nearly three weeks earlier—news that had not yet had time to cross the Atlantic. Seven years later Melville would conclude his story "Bartleby," about a former clerk in the dead-letter office, with a lament, heavy with Victorian sentimentality, for such unreceived letters:

Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring:—the finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave; a bank-note sent in swiftest charity:—he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands of life, these letters speed to death. (NN Piazza Tales volume, p. 45)

After the success of Typee and Omoo and the consolidation in 1847 of the larger part of the Melville family in New York—in a household that included Maria Melville, the four Melville sisters, and Herman and Allan with their brides—the anxious letters become less frequent in what remains of the family correspondence.8 Yet with one or more of the women frequently traveling to stay pg 779with relatives and friends, letters remained important—particularly among the women. After Melville and his wife, along with his mother and three of his sisters, moved to Pittsfield in the fall of 1850, Augusta Melville wrote a letter on 14 January 1851 to her friend Mary Blatchford in New York describing their new routine, clearly making letters the key item of importance on her list: "Then there are the letters to be read, of which we generally have two or three, & the New York papers — & when those fail — we take up some interesting book. We have just begun 'David Copperfield'" (NYPL-GL). And as Augusta had already written on 22 November 1850 to their sister Helen, the arrival of a letter—this one in Herman's overcoat pocket—could set the whole household in an uproar:

The arrival of your letter created quite an excitement. Lizzie (who brought in Hermans over coat with her from the waggon in order to loose no time in placing it in our hands,) was quite frowned upon for having lighted upon the wrong pocket, at first, and had we not been restrained by the respect we invariably show matrons, Fanny & I would have possessed ourselves of the garment on the instant, so incensed were we at her awkwardness. At last the letter was produced. Expectations ran high — whose address did it bear? — Mama's — Now for the spectacles! — Another delay! — Patience — Patience. — Here they are, — & with heads bent forward, eyes fixed & ears intent we drank in the contents. A great event this. — The first arrival of the first letter of the first absentee of Arrowhead. (NYPL-GL)

Yet Melville seems always to stand on the periphery of this constant round of letters among the women. His letter of 25 May 1862 to his youngest brother Thomas concludes, "I dont write you, My Dear Boy, about family matters, because I know that the girls keep you posted there."9 And in fact very few details of daily life emerge in pg 780Melville's letters; it is primarily through the women's letters, not Melville's, that we learn about Allan's new houses, Augusta's engagement (and its lapse), and all the comings and goings of various family members. His letters that do contain "information" were generally written while he was away from home—his 1856 letter from Liverpool to his brother Allan, his 1860 letter from the Pacific Ocean to his son Malcolm, and his 1861 letter from Washington, D.C., to his wife. Others have a specific purpose to accomplish—particularly those to his uncle Peter Gansevoort and father-in-law, Lemuel Shaw.10 But most often when facing up to "epistolary obligations" Melville reached for hyperbolic "moonshine" rather than supplying mundane descriptions of daily events to "fill out" his sheet.11 Thus, rather than a description of the actual family celebrations accompanying the birth of his first son Malcolm, his letter of 20 February 1849 to his brother Allan has all the bells in the city and all the ships in the harbor proclaiming the momentous event; rather than wishing his ill second cousin a speedy recovery, his letter of 26 April 1847 to Augustus Van Schaick desires him to send "a challenge across the water" to fight the British champion Bendigo; and rather than predicting Henry Gansevoort's success as a Union commander, his letter of 22 March 1864 anticipates "two small but choice constellations of stars" alighting on his cousin's shoulders and his name being used "by Southern matrons to frighten their children." Even his comments on small matters are couched in such fanciful terms. His letter of 5 August 1875 to Abraham Lansing concerning pg 781an upcoming trip to Albany proclaims: "When the Shah of Persia or the Great Khan of Tartary comes to Albany by the night-boat — him meet on the wharf with salvoes of artillery — but not a Custom House Inspector."

By all accounts Melville's letters to family members, though unorthodox, were highly prized among them. After receiving one, his sister Helen responded on 29 May 1854 that she felt "particularly flattered & pleased" to have a letter from him, and in apologizing for not having written him sooner she dramatized what must have been a noticeable disregard on his part for the women's interest in day-to-day newsy letters:

I should have sent one of my numerous epistles to your particular address ere now, if I had not been so well acquainted with your usual mode of treating such documents — "Any letters? Herman?" cries Gus, or Lizzie, or Fanny, as you are reining up old Charlie in gallant style at the pump-room door. "Y – e – s – s" — "one from Helen I guess — for some of you — here 'tis." "Why Herman, it's directed to you!" — "Is it? let me see — why so it is! Well, take it along, I'll be in presently, and then some of you can read it to me."12

Given Melville's disregard for the family's correspondence, it is not surprising that his sister Augusta's record of correspondence for 1849–54 (NYPL-GL) indicates that his letters to her and probably other family members were relatively infrequent.13 For example, while visiting in New York between Thanksgiving and the end of January in 1851–52, she recorded receiving one joint letter from pg 782Herman and their sister Helen on 4 December and sending one letter to Herman on 28 December. By contrast she herself wrote four letters to Helen during this period and received five letters from her in addition to the joint one with their brother. To their youngest sister Frances Priscilla she sent four letters and received eight, and to their mother she sent six and received two.14

Rather than contributing more fully to the constant flow of family letters with his own pen, Melville often requested his sisters or wife to add a message from him at the close of their letters. Most such messages are perfunctory, occasioned simply by his presence in the room. His sister Augusta, for example, explains in a letter of 6 April 1846 to their second cousin Catharine Van Schaick: "Herman just passed through the room. 'Who are you writing to Gus?' [']Kate Van Schaick.' [']Well, give her my very best love[']" (New York State Library).15 Yet some of his messages were substantial enough that they may have prompted a letter from the recipient. His wife's letter of 2 July 1873 to his cousin Catherine Gansevoort, for example, states: "Herman sends his love, and wishes to know if you have pg 783succeeded in getting the book you wished — if not to let him know, and he will get it for you" (NYPL-GL). In addition to relaying such messages from Herman, both his wife and his brother Allan wrote full letters on his behalf from time to time.16

Perhaps nowhere is Melville's vicarious participation in the family's letter-writing more apparent than in Elizabeth Shaw Melville's correspondence with his cousin Catherine Gansevoort Lansing while he was getting Clarel through the press. On 2 February 1876 Elizabeth wrote politely to Catherine, explaining that they could not receive visitors with the book "going through the press, and every minute of Herman's time and mine is devoted to it"; she then wrote a second letter on a separate sheet, which she smuggled into the same envelope:

Dear Kate,

    I have written you a note that Herman could see, as he wished, but want you to know how painful it is for me to write it, and also to have to give the real cause — The fact is, that Herman, poor fellow, is in such a frightfully nervous state, & particularly now with such an added strain on his mind, that I am actually afraid to have any one here for fear that he will be upset entirely, & not be able to go on with the printing — He was not willing to have even his own sisters here, and I had to write Augusta before she left Albany to that effect — that was the reason she changed her plan, and went to Tom's — If ever this dreadful incubus of a book (I call it so because it has undermined all our happiness) gets off Herman's shoulders I do hope he may be in better mental health. (NYPL-GL)

This second letter is revealing not only for the glimpse it gives of the tensions within the Melville household at this time but also for its indication that Melville saw much of the mail going out of the house as well as coming into it even when he was not an active correspon-pg 784dent. Later in the process of getting Clarel through the press, Elizabeth Melville wrote another letter to Melville's cousin Kate on 22 April 1876, this time including a message from him: "Congratulate us that the book is at last, in type.… Now, he wants me to tell you he is going to inscribe that book in your father's name, as seems most natural and fit" (NYPL-GL).

In the same way many messages were directed to Melville within the letters between his wife, sisters, and other relatives. Many of these messages are as perfunctory as his own. A typical one is from Melville's sister Frances Priscilla, concluding her letter of 20 March 1863 from the family home in Gansevoort, New York, to her sister Augusta in Pittsfield: "Mamma sends love to Herman & Malcolm" (NYPL-GL). But other messages are more purposeful. Several months after Melville's wagon-accident, Helen wrote on 6 March 1863 from her home in Brookline, Massachusetts, to Elizabeth in Pittsfield, adding, "Love best to Herman I am glad he is so much better" (NYPL-GL). Melville's brother-in-law John Hoadley even included strongly worded praise for the story "Cock-A-Doodle-Doo!" in a letter of 27 December 1853 to Augusta, rather than to Herman himself: "Tell Herman I thank him with all my heart for that noble, spirited lesson of hope, — enduring, triumphant,— never despairing,— in the 'Crowing of the noble Cock Beneventano'" (NYPL-GL). And in 1854 Augusta received a letter of 1 March from their brother Allan with a timely piece of advice concerning Melville's magazine pieces: "Say to Herman that he ought to reserve to himself the right to publish his magazine matter in book form. It might be desirable & could probably be secured by agreement made at the beginning. Tell him I regretted to hear of his 'Horrid Week' of weak eyes & congratulate him on his recovery" (NYPL-GL). Of all the members of the family, the matriarch, Maria Melville, wielded this device of the indirect message most skillfully. Writing to Augusta on 10 March 1851 shortly after arriving in New York, she clearly intended the following "message" to reach her recalcitrant son: "Herman I hope returned home safe after dumping me & my trunks out so unceremoniously at the Depot — Altho we were there more than an hour before the time, he hurried off as if his life had depended upon his speed, a more ungallant man it would be difficult to find. I hope to hear from Herman" (NYPL-GL).17 Not satis-pg 785fied with this rebuke, she wrote two days later—once again to Augusta but also once again with a clear agenda for her son—this time concerning the issue of his having a daguerreotype taken so that his portrait could be published, something he had been stubbornly refusing:

We met Mrs Duyckinck & sister in the street. In the Eveg Mr Duyckinck came up & pass'd the Eveg with us, both inquired very particularly about you

Mr Bancroft has set for his portrait it will soon appear in the Dollar Magazine. Mr Duyckinck has Mr Hawthornes which will also appear in the same. Mr Duyckinck said Herman must sit to a first rate artist when he comes on — & also told me the International Magazine had advertized among the Portraits that of Herman Melvilles as forthcoming with other American Authors, Mr Prescott has also had his Portrait taken for Mr Duyckinck's magazine all at the expense of Mr D— & brother.

    So Herman with all those illustrious examples will have to do likewise or appear very strangely stiff. (NYPL-GL)18

A year later when Melville failed to call upon the Albany poet Alfred Street when he gave a reading in Pittsfield, Melville's uncle Peter Gansevoort in a letter of 9 October 1852 to his sister, Melville's mother, adopted the same device for chastising his nephew:

Alas — Herman, thou art a sorry boy — Thou might have tipped thy beaver, kissed thy hand & last tho' not least dropped thy Card, but tho' Hat & Hand Card were thine, all those were withheld by thee Typee from Alfreds anxious hopes — no, no the Poet sings, no, no — he took no friendly token from his quiver, and locked up "Arrowhead" … Herman, Herman, Herman truly thou art an "Ambiguity" —.(NYPL-GL)

The scarcity, in this volume, of Melville's letters to family members must be discounted by his habit of writing letters infrequently pg 786and his practice of sending messages in the letters of other members of the family. Still, there is no doubt that he did write many letters to them that are missing. Although nearly a third of his letters printed in this volume (ninety-three letters) were written to relatives, most of them are not to his immediate family but to his cousin Catherine Gansevoort Lansing and other members of her family in his later years. These predominate now because they were preserved so carefully. This volume includes only one letter from Melville to his mother, fourteen letters to his seven brothers and sisters, and two letters to his own children. The full evidence, however, indicates that these are a small part of those he actually wrote to members of his family. There are only five letters to his sisters, two to Augusta and three to Kate, for example, although an additional twenty-eight letters to his sisters can be inferred. Only a single letter to his wife—that of 24 and 25 March 1861 from Washington—is now known to survive, yet a large number of his letters to her certainly survived into the twentieth century. In 1929 Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., recalled:

About twenty-five years ago I sought Herman Melville's daughter, Elizabeth, who was living in the old Florence amid her father's books and pictures. She talked of him with constraint, but was interested in my quest, giving me two privately printed pamphlets of poems, which completed my first editions, and letting me read casually from that japanned tin cakebox which contained Melville's letters and unpublished manuscripts. Thus I took a few notes from the diaries of travels, sampled "Billy Budd," and the last poems. Miss Melville generously promised me the use of all the papers except Melville's letters to his wife. In high hopes I wrote to the American publishers [Houghton, Mifflin] whose list is heaviest with our classics, and proposed a modest biography in one volume. The answer was friendly but decisive: Herman Melville was a hopelessly bad risk, and one that no prudent publisher could undertake even to the extent of a few hundred dollars.19

Mather's recollection is the only published reference to Melville's letters to his wife. Raymond Weaver, Melville's first twentieth-century biographer, left no record of seeing them. The only surviving pg 787tangible clues to their having existed are a number of "Herman Melville" autographs evidently clipped from "Mrs. Herman Melville" on their envelopes. Harrison Hayford recalls that in the late 1950's when he along with William Gilman and Merrell Davis visited Melville's granddaughter, Eleanor Melville Metcalf, she brought out a group of clipped Melville autographs, which she accounted for in that way, and generously allowed each of them to choose one. She also presented such clippings to a number of other scholars, including Luther Mansfield, Merton M. Sealts, Jr., and Stanley T. Williams.20 Davis and Gilman in the introduction to their 1960 Letters of Herman Melville report that Mrs. Metcalf had "some forty-six" such clippings, some of them from "envelopes that Melville addressed to his wife, now cut down—apparently for the autograph signatures—from 'Mrs. Herman Melville' to 'Herman Melville.' By the use of paper evidence, one might establish that at least three of these were written sometime in 1860 or shortly thereafter … during Melville's trip around the Horn, and that another was written after 1882 (the date of the manufacturer's mark on the paper)" (p. xviii). Davis and Gilman concluded that these clippings represented "positive evidence" of letters from Melville to his wife that had been destroyed.21 Since no family letters pg 788lacking Melville's signature or envelopes lacking "Mrs. Herman Melville" in their address are known to have survived, the letters and envelopes from which these autographs were cut appear to have been destroyed (and from Mather's report, the destruction of those to his wife must have taken place after his visit to Melville's daughter Elizabeth in 1906).22

Just how many other family letters Melville wrote is hard to judge. Of letters to his five aunts on the paternal side of the family, only two, to his aunt Lucy, have been located. Yet his childhood visits to Boston, where Melville's grandparents Major Thomas Melvill and Priscilla Scollay Melvill lived and his aunts congregated, and to Bristol where his uncle John D'Wolf and aunt Mary Melvill D'Wolf lived, make it likely that he had subsequent correspondence with these close relatives. Similarly, no letters to his uncle Thomas Melvill, Jr., with whose family he lived in Pittsfield and later visited in Galena, Illinois, have been found, yet at least a few were probably written. And to his three Gansevoort uncles, his mother's brothers, only letters to his uncle Peter have been located, yet Melville dedicated his second book, Omoo, to his uncle Herman (for whom he was named) and probably wrote to him at that time as well as at others. In addition, at least ten further letters to members of Elizabeth Shaw Melville's family, including her father Lemuel Shaw, can be inferred, and apparently an extensive correspondence with his wife's cousin Ellen Marett Gifford has been lost.23 Also a few other scattered letters, not part of extended series, such as those to his second cousin Augustus Van Schaick and his wife's half-cousin Samuel Savage, may survive unlocated.24

As for the letters Melville received from family members, texts for only twenty have been located. Jay Leyda speculated that Melville pg 789destroyed some of his papers, including letters received, first before his move from New York to Arrowhead in the fall of 1850, and later before his move from Arrowhead into the village of Pittsfield during the summer of 1862.25 Encouraging the speculation that Melville may already have burned family and other letters by the time he wrote Pierre in 1851–52 (or at least that such an act would be congenial to his own inclinations) is his highly dramatic description of such a bonfire in Pierre:

    "… Hitherto I have hoarded up mementoes and monuments of the past; been a worshiper of all heir-looms; a fond filer away of letters, locks of hair, bits of ribbon, flowers, and the thousand-and-one minutenesses which love and memory think they sanctify:—but it is forever over now! If to me any memory shall henceforth be dear, I will not mummy it in a visible memorial for every passing beggar's dust to gather on. Love's museum is vain and foolish as the Catacombs, where grinning apes and abject lizards are embalmed, as, forsooth, significant of some imagined charm. It speaks merely of decay and death, and nothing more; decay and death of endless innumerable generations; it makes of earth one mold. How can lifelessness be fit memorial of life?—So far, for mementoes of the sweetest. As for the rest—now I know this, that in commonest memorials, the twilight fact of death first discloses in some secret way, all the ambiguities of that departed thing or person; obliquely it casts hints, and insinuates surmises base, and eternally incapable of being cleared." …

    [Pierre] ran back to the chest, and seizing repeated packages of family letters, and all sorts of miscellaneous memorials in paper, he threw them one after the other upon the fire. (bk. 12, sect, iii, pp. 197–98)

Yet suggestive as Pierre's bonfire is as to the possible fate of some of Melville's own family letters (at whatever time or times), bonfires did not engulf them all, for family letters both by and to Melville have continued to surface. In 1977 Patricia Barber found Melville's important letters of 12 and 22 May 1856 to his father-in-law that had pg 790gone previously unnoticed in the Shaw papers.26 And in 1983 came startling news of a trove of papers that had been in the possession of Augusta Melville. There were over five hundred family letters, mostly among Melville's mother and sisters, including three by Melville and four to him.27 Furthermore, Melville's childhood letter of 11 October 1828 to his aunt Lucy surfaced as recently as 1985, and the exuberant letter of 17 October 1844 that he received upon his homecoming from the Pacific from his brother Allan was among Henry A. Murray's papers in 1989. Therefore, we may reasonably hope that further Melville family letters, some of them remarkable, will continue to surface.


If it is difficult to determine how much more lost correspondence Melville had with family members, it is even more difficult to tell how much more he had beyond his family. No one could have anticipated the existence of such letters as those to Daniel Shepherd and to Julius Rockwell, until they were brought to light. If the Duyckinck brothers had not preserved Melville's letters to them, would we have any way of guessing just how extensive that correspondence pg 791was? Even though Melville belonged to the Duyckinck circle, he was never enough a part of it—or any other circle—that his letters were frequently discussed in its members' own letters the way they were within those of his family.28 And while it seems likely that Melville had some correspondence with other members of the Duyckinck circle—such as Cornelius Mathews, George J. Adler, David Davidson, and William Allen Butler, as well as other literary men around New York, such as Thomas Powell—there is little known evidence of any.29

Melville's reluctance to accept the public role of a man-of-letters for himself—evident early on in his unwillingness to accept the initial lecture invitations he received or to have his "mug" appear in literary journals30—is also reflected in his sometimes cavalier attitude toward letter-writing. As the "Calendar of Melville's Correspondence" compiled for this volume indicates, he rarely wrote without first being written to—and then usually only to accomplish a specific purpose.31 When he did write first and without specific business, he wrote impulsively and polemically—in a way very different from the rambling, discursive letters from abroad that built the careers of such pg 792contemporaries as Bayard Taylor and G. W. Curtis.32 Typically, his one "published" letter from abroad—the excerpt that N. P. Willis printed in his weekly column in 1850 because it was "so characteristic, that we cannot forbear giving it to the admirers of Typee and Omoo"—was not a rambling descriptive letter but a diatribe against the indignity of traveling without enough money ("I very much doubt whether Gabriel enters the portals of Heaven without a fee to Peter the porter—so impossible is it to travel without money.…").33 So brash by nineteenth-century standards were his letters of 25 March 1848 to John Murray and of 24 February 1849 to Evert Duyckinck that both men evidently chided Melville in their replies.34 In both cases Melville had been stirred by his awakening literary ambitions—the letter to Murray about Mardi as a work in progress defied the publisher's strictures against writing romances ("To be blunt: the work I shall next publish will in downright earnest [be] a 'Romance of Polynisian Adventure'"); and the letter to Duyckinck was written shortly after the completion of that romance, during Melville's first extended reading of Shakespeare. Similarly he wrote just as brash and impetuous letters to Dana (1 May 1850) and Hawthorne ([1 June?] 1851) when his ambitions for his "whaling book" were taking shape. Replies by Dana and Hawthorne to these letters are not known to survive, but the reactions of late-nineteenth-century readers to several of the subsequently published letters to Hawthorne give further proof of just how atypical Melville's heartfelt literary epistles were. When she read Melville's letter to her husband of [16 April?] 1851, Sophia Hawthorne was so pleased with its praise of The House pg 793of the Seven Gables that she copied out a passage to enclose with a letter to her sister—but with the firm warning "do not show it":

The fresh, sincere, glowing mind that utters it is in a state of "fluid consciousness," & to Mr Hawthorne speaks his innermost about GOD, the Devil & Life if so be he can get at the Truth — for he is a boy in opinion — having settled nothing as yet — informe — ingens — & it would betray him to make public his confessions & efforts to grasp — because they would be considered perhaps impious, if one did not take in the whole scope of the case.35

Ironically, over thirty years later when Hawthorne's son Julian did "show" this letter to the world along with three others from Melville in his Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife (2 vols., Boston: Osgood, 1884), two important reviews singled them out for criticism—not as "impious" but as uninteresting. In its 22 November 1884 review the London Spectator declared that Julian Hawthorne's book was "swollen-out with letters of little interest,—often very random letters,—from Hawthorne's friends. The letters of Mr. Bridge, for example, and of Mr. Melville, and of one or two other correspondents, are not unfrequently harum-scarum letters, which tell us hardly anything of Hawthorne, except that his friends were not afraid to write rattling nonsense to him." Similarly, Thomas Wentworth Higginson noted in the Atlantic Monthly of February 1885 that the letters of Hawthorne's American correspondents which had been included betrayed "habitually the tone of secondary minds, not of men meeting him [Hawthorne] on high ground," and added: "In some cases the letters are given so fully as to give an impression of 'padding,' as where we have nine consecutive pages of not very interesting epistles from Herman Melville."36 Significant in pg 794these reviews is the fact that regardless of whether Melville's letters were considered impious or uninteresting, literary high priests like Higginson found them too undistinguished to be taken seriously.

Melville's own sense of alienation from the complacent world of men-of-letters he had entered as the young author of Typee culminated in his seventh published book—Pierre. This was the first of his books in which letters played a significant role. Indeed an "amazing" letter from Pierre's self-proclaimed illegitimate sister Isabel sets the whole narrative in motion:

    This letter, inscribed in a feminine, but irregular hand, and in some places almost illegible, plainly attesting the state of the mind which had dictated it;—stained, too, here and there, with spots of tears, which chemically acted upon by the ink, assumed a strange and reddish hue—as if blood and not tears had dropped upon the sheet;—and so completely torn in two by Pierre's own hand, that it indeed seemed the fit scroll of a torn, as well as bleeding heart;—this amazing letter, deprived Pierre for the time of all lucid and definite thought or feeling. (bk. 3, sect. ii, pp. 64–65)

Like Melville's own impulsive letters, this is a bold, truth-telling one, as are several others central to the narrative of Pierre.37Taken together, Melville's fictional letters reflect a hyperbolic assertion repeated in two of his actual letters (those of 1 May 1850 to Dana and of [17?] November 1851 to Hawthorne) that a single letter to a receptive correspondent far outweighed the value of a book sold to a wide audience of dull and uncomprehending readers. In both he wished all of his writing could simply be in the form of such letters. pg 795To "My Dear Dana," he declared that "did I not write these books of mine almost entirely for 'lucre' — by the job, as a woodsawyer saws wood — I almost think, I should hereafter — in the case of a sea book — get my M.S.S. neatly & legibly copied by a scrivener — send you that one copy — & deem such a procedure the best publication." And to Hawthorne, in a postscript, he recast this scheme in larger, more fantastic terms:

    I can't stop yet. If the world was entirely made up of Magians, I 'll tell you what I should do. I should have a paper-mill established at one end of the house, and so have an endless riband of foolscap rolling in upon my desk; and upon that endless riband I should write a thousand — a million — billion thoughts, all under the form of a letter to you. The divine magnet is in you, and my magnet responds. Which is the biggest? A foolish question — they are One.

In contrast with the "amazing" letters in Pierre are others, including those to Pierre from family members, literary acquaintances, lecture committees, autograph seekers, and admirers of his youthful literary efforts, letters which are repeatedly associated with all that is false and vain.38 They are from correspondents who, unlike Dana and Hawthorne, are incapable of understanding the deeper truths embedded in his writing. As in the bonfire passage quoted above, these letters are treated with authorial contempt, and a second fire is devoted to all the literary correspondence Pierre has received:

    And it may well be believed, that after the wonderful vital world-revelation so suddenly made to Pierre at the Meadows—a revelation which, at moments, in some certain things, fairly Timonized him—he had not failed to clutch with peculiar nervous detestation and contempt that ample parcel, containing the letters of his Biographico and other silly correspondents, which, in a less ferocious hour, he had filed away as curiosities. It was with an almost infernal grin, that he saw that particular heap of rubbish eternally quenched in the fire, and felt that as it was consumed before his eyes, so in his soul was forever killed the last and minutest undeveloped microscopic pg 796germ of that most despicable vanity to which those absurd correspondents thought to appeal. (bk. 17, sect. iii, p. 255)39

Such passages in Pierre read almost like an irreverent inversion of a letter that Melville's brother Gansevoort wrote from New York on 21 January 1840 to their younger brother Allan, then in Albany:

My dear Allan — It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge the receipt of your epistles of the 11thult & 2nd inst — both of which I have preserved — It is a good habit to preserve the letters of those who are near & dear to us — They serve in after days as mementos of the past — kindling in our minds vivid recollections of former emotions & forgotten scenes, & serving to prove the falsehood of some & the faith of others — I would have you my dear brother form this habit — You will never regret its acquirement. (Berkshire Athenaeum)

Melville probably saw Gansevoort's letter, since he was living in nearby Greenbush and since it included a pointed message for him ("Give my best love to Herman — I sometimes send him papers — Does he ever call at the Greenbush Post Office? — Tell him … I hereby promise him a letter. I know no other reason for his remissness but laziness — not general laziness by any means — but that laziness which consists in an unwillingness to exert oneself in doing at a particular time, that which ought then to be done — or to illustrate — that disinclination to perform the special duty of the hour which so constantly beset one of the most industrious men of the age — Sir Walter Scott"). pg 797That Melville had Gansevoort's letter specifically in mind when he wrote Pierre over a decade later may be doubtful, but that he sought to challenge the ideal of the writer as an august and dutiful public man-of-letters—a role Gansevoort had anticipated for himself at one time—goes without saying.40

Judging by what is now known of Melville's letters, his "amazing" and defiant letters all but ceased after 1852, the year he canceled his subscription to the Duyckincks' Literary World in two letters (bringing a hiatus in his correspondence with them) and failed to publish Pierre in England (ending summarily further correspondence with British publishers). After that year his correspondence consists primarily of short letters to his American publishers (George P. Putnam, Harper & Brothers, and later Dix & Edwards), a scattering of coy notes to his Pittsfield neighbor Sarah Morewood, to his sisters, and his cousin Catherine Gansevoort Lansing, and cursory replies to letters received (to his brother-in-law Samuel Savage he wrote such a brief reply on 16 October 1860, adding, "I hope you are a good enough Christian in this matter of correspondence to be willing cheerfully to give much and receive little"). His random comments on letter-writing were rarely enthusiastic and became less and less so. His letter of 5 September 1885 to James Billson closes with the weary comment: "But a letter on almost any theme, is but an inadequate vehicle, so I will say no more." And the British sea-novelist W. Clark Russell replied on 10 April 1888 to one of Melville's letters (now unlocated) with the remark: "I can fully sympathize with your dislike to letter writing." Whereas many of his letters around mid-century to Murray, Duyckinck, Dana, and Hawthorne were of the sort Bruce Redford has called "campaigns for intimacy"41—campaigns to confess his feeling of brotherhood in authorship and true ambitions as a pg 798writer—his later letters are nearly always restricted to the business at hand. This is apparent as early as the late 1840's in Melville's correspondence with his second British publisher, Richard Bentley—written in the wake of the stern rebuff over Mardi that he had received from John Murray. Despite Bentley's interest in Melville's "genius" and their immediate compatibility when they met in London in 1849, none of Melville's known letters to him is confessional. Instead they focus on selling book-publishing rights. His letters describing Redburn, The Whale, and Pierre all argue for the popular appeal of his books—an argument that became progressively more difficult to make as he tried to embed his ambitious literary purposes within the form of popular romances.42 Bentley's letter of 5 May 1852, which insisted on revising and cutting portions of Pierre as a precondition for publishing it, was apparently greeted only by silence from Melville—one silence among many in his correspondence after 1852. And what letters he wrote were in many ways a campaign for non-intimacy. Often the only personal element in these later letters is what Melville called his "infirmity of jocularity" when writing George Duyckinck on 20 December 1858—an infirmity which, he acknowledged, "I am aware should hardly intrude into a semi-business letter like this." These sallies, however, gave some of his later letters a characteristic stamp they would not otherwise have had.43 Still, his real concerns, the concerns which emerge within his late poetry, are not revealed in the letters of the latter part of his career.

Although this volume includes a number of letters to and from personal and literary friends, both early and late in Melville's life—men such as Alexander Bradford, Thurlow Weed, Edwin Croswell, Julius Rockwell, Daniel Shepherd, John W. Francis, Richard Lathers, Augustus Gardner, George Duyckinck, G. P. R. James, pg 799General Robert Tyler, Richard H. Stoddard, and Edmund C. Stedman—there is nothing in them to suggest more than casual friendships he entertained but had no intention of cultivating further. Of course, unlike Melville's late correspondence with his British admirers James Billson, Henry Salt, and W. Clark Russell, which was confined to their cordial but relatively formal letters because of the ocean between them, Melville often had more personal association with many of his friends that went unrecorded in letters—particularly during the early part of his career while he was still in New York. Elizabeth Shaw Melville's letter of 23 December 1847 to her stepmother describes a constant round of calls on "Herman's and Allan's friends" ("no sooner do we do up a few, than they all come again, and so it has to be done over again"). Similarly, Melville's 1849–50 journal indicates that he became good friends with George Adler, talking with him of "'Fixed Fate, Free-will, foreknowledge absolute' &c." (p. 4), but none of that talk is known to have made its way into letters. It also seems likely that after moving back to New York in 1863 Melville spoke with acquaintances such as Stoddard and Stedman more than he wrote to them.44 Yet Melville's habits also suggest a reluctance on his part to mix socially as a literary man. Elizabeth Melville's letter of 23 December 1847 states that "excepting calls, I have scarcely visited at all. Herman is not fond of parties, and I don't care anything about them here." And at the other end of his career, when asked to join the Authors Club in New York, he ultimately declined on the grounds that "he had become too much of a hermit, saying his nerves could no longer stand large gatherings and begged to rescind his acceptance."45 This reticence must also have carried over into his letter-writing habits, making him less likely to initiate or prolong correspondence with anyone with whom he was not already closely associated.

Certainly there is nothing at all to suggest that Melville ever thought of himself as maintaining a correspondence that would ultimately be published and read because of the role he had played as an author. Although he answered autograph requests, he usually did so hurriedly, probably sometimes letting two or three accumulate pg 800and then answering them all at once with similar wording (see, for example, his replies of February 1869). His replies to invitations for literary "events" of the day are polite but never enthusiastic. When he received an invitation to the "Complimentary Fruit & Flower Festival" sponsored by the New York Book Publishers' Association in 1855, his mother felt it necessary to write to his sister Augusta in Pittsfield to make sure that he had sent a letter of regret in reply to the invitation.46 Moreover, a large number of his letters in this volume were only partially dated, and eleven were misdated—they were not the studied letters of a man writing for posterity but messages only for the individuals receiving them. Thus, when he headed a letter in 1854 to Sarah Morewood "Day of Ill Luck—Friday. March &c," he was writing only to a friend and neighbor who would understand his allusion—which now over a century later is obscure. Nor, of course, did Melville carefully save his letters from friends and associates for posterity, or keep any copies of his own letters in a letterbook. Although he does mention a "file" in his letter of 29 August 1851 to Evert Duyckinck ("The letter is in the file & the thermometer on the wall"), his letter of 10 December 1863 to Sophia Van Matre comments on that "vile habit of mine to destroy all my letters."47 He repeated this assertion twenty years later when Julian Hawthorne asked him for letters from his father.48 (It was very likely Elizabeth Shaw Melville who preserved the relatively few letters addressed to her husband that are now in the Houghton Library, many of pg 801which belong in the category Pierre calls "silly" letters.)49 In several cases he apparently thought enough of an occasion or correspondent to draft a letter first and then recopy it—as indicated by the two drafts now on verso pages of the "Orme" manuscript.50 Other letters, such as his 19 December 1851 one to Rufus Griswold regarding the Cooper memorial, are so cleanly written as to suggest that he sometimes wrote formal letters in draft form first. (Melville probably knew that Griswold intended to publish that letter in his Memorial of James Fenimore Cooper.)51 Yet Melville pg 802clearly did not expect or desire the publication of his private letters. When George Parsons Lathrop, Hawthorne's son-in-law, requested permission to print "two or three" of Melville's letters to Hawthorne in his Study of Hawthorne (1876), Melville's letter in reply had "a sort of gloomy reluctance," so Lathrop later reported.52 Apart from the six known letters Melville wrote specifically pg 803for publication (his 1838 Microscope letters, his communication printed in the 21 April 1846 Albany Argus, his letter to Rufus Griswold, cited just above, and his undated letter to the World [c. 1865–88]), only seven of his letters seem to have been published in his lifetime.53

From a literary point of view, Melville's not writing letters for the eyes of posterity is a disappointment—compounded by the failure of many recipients and later owners to preserve the letters he did write, such as those to his wife. Likewise, no trace now exists of some letters we suppose he would have written. For example, after Hawthorne's death on 19 May 1864, Elizabeth Shaw Melville wrote to Melville's mother reporting that Herman was "shocked" by the news of his friend's passing.54 That Melville wrote no letter of condolence to Sophia Hawthorne would be strange, even though none has surfaced with those from other contemporary writers.55 The explanation, in general, is of course that Melville's fame died so quickly within his own lifetime that his letters were not highly valued. Even such admirers as Henry Salt and W. Clark Russell, who corresponded with him late in his life, made little effort to keep his letters pg 804to them.56 Similarly, neither Melville nor his letters figure prominently in the reminiscences of the well-known men of his acquaintance.57 And although letters by him appear in a number of early autograph catalogues, the prices assigned to them indicate that he was considered a minor writer valued primarily for rounding out a collection of American autographs.58

Melville's continued fame could not have saved some of his letters, such as those to his former shipmate Richard Greene, which pg 805probably were destroyed in the Chicago fire, or whatever letters he wrote to William Cramer, Gansevoort's friend, whose papers were also destroyed in a fire; but it is tempting to speculate that whatever letters he wrote to Eli James Murdock Fly, Oliver Russ, Robert Barry Coffin, Peter Toft, or Richard Garnett would have surfaced by now had they been more valuable earlier. Also, for that reason, possibly more of his letters about lecture engagements to the various presidents and secretaries of Young Men's Associations and civic organizations would have been preserved. Yet, on the other hand, despite the dramatically rising prices commanded by Melville letters during the twentieth century,59 known letters have disappeared. For example, what became of the manuscripts of the four letters that Julian Hawthorne published remains a mystery. Charles Olson commented to Jay Leyda on their disappearance in a letter of 14 June 1950: "I was told [Julian] was irregular about property, so it is possible he sold, without the wife's knowledge, materials, (he knew their value, obviously.)"60 A few months later Norman Holmes Pearson wrote to Leyda on 30 August, adding: "Julian … made a regular business of trucking H's papers, selling them, buying them back and re-selling or acting as agent"; yet if Julian did sell Melville's letters to a collector, they have remained hidden from scholars for over half a pg 806century since Julian's death in 1934.61 Likewise, other Melville letters, long after their high value was well known, have fallen through the cracks. The fate of Melville's long intimate letter to his brother Allan from Liverpool in 1856 is the most perplexing. In publishing that letter Davis and Gilman reported it as in the Berkshire Athenaeum, in anticipation (as their files reveal) of its donation by Agnes Morewood; however, according to Robert Newman and Ruth Degenhardt of the Berkshire Athenaeum, that letter was never received there. This important letter may reappear, but the likelihood is that it was inadvertently destroyed (or, less likely, purchased and still undivulged) during the breakup of the Morewood estate.62 Fortunately Davis and Gilman had secured an excellent photocopy, now in the Melville Edition files at The Newberry Library. This instance underscores how essential scholarly publications have been in helping to preserve the words, even if not the original manuscripts, of Melville's correspondence.63


Because Melville was not a canonized man-of-letters when he died in 1891, no effort to collect his letters for publication was made until the early twentieth century. Fifteen years later, in 1906, Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., hoping to write Melville's biography (see p. 786 above), was the first to take an active interest in seeing to the preservation of the letters that remained within the family. He had obtained pg 807a letter of introduction to Melville's widow Elizabeth from Edmund C. Stedman, but failed to meet her. After her death in 1906 he wrote to Stedman, urging him to ask Melville's daughter Elizabeth (Bessie) Melville "what biographical materials are extant, suggesting, if you see fit, that letters should be given to a public library or otherwise preserved?"64 Mather later met with this daughter, who possibly because of his interest made an early effort to collect her father's letters. On 24 November 1906 the following notice on her behalf appeared in the "Literary Gossip" section of the London Athenæum: "The family of the late Herman Melville, author of 'Typee,' 'The Whale,' &c., are collecting materials for a memoir, and would be grateful if any persons having letters by him would send them to Miss Elizabeth Melville, 'The Florence,' Fourth Avenue and Eighteenth Street, New York. Such letters will be promptly copied and returned." At least two of Melville's British correspondents, James Billson and Henry Salt, sent her letters, evidently at Mather's request.65 However, Miss Elizabeth Melville died only two years later, in 1908, without publishing such letters as she had collected. Not until 1921 in Raymond Weaver's Herman Melville: Mariner pg 808and Mystic (New York: Doran) were a number of Melville's letters brought together in a book about him. In addition to five of the already published letters to Hawthorne, Weaver included for the first time either full or partial texts of eight letters by Melville and seven letters to him, all of which were then in the possession of Melville's granddaughter Eleanor Melville Metcalf and which she gave to the Harvard College Library in 1937.66 Also in the 1920's, as in Weaver's biography, most of the publications of Melville letters consisted of clusters from single collections. James Billson published in The Nation and the Athenæum (13 August 1921) all but one of the nine letters Melville is known to have written to him. The following year, Meade Minnigerode first published in Some Personal Letters of Herman Melville and a Bibliography (New York: Brick Row Book Shop, 1922) seventeen Melville letters (mostly partial texts) from the Duyckinck papers in the New York Public Library. In 1929 Victor H. Paltsits's Family Correspondence of Herman Melville, 1830–1904 (New York: New York Public Library) first published either full or partial texts of forty-nine of Melville's letters, as well as six letters to him.67 In a 28 February 1945 letter to Tyrus Hillway, secretary of the Melville Society, Paltsits recalled: "Back in 1919 when I gave the Gansevoort-Lansing Collection to The New York Public Library, including the Family Correspondence of Herman Melville which I edited later, there was but little interest in him" (Melville Society Papers, The Newberry Library).

Not until Willard Thorp's 1938 Melville volume in the American Writers Series was there published a selection of Melville's letters drawn from various manuscript collections. Thorp's little anthology included twenty-one letters from Melville's correspondence with his family and with Evert Duyckinck, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and James pg 809Billson.68 "Melville was born late to fame," Thorp wrote in his preface, but his landmark volume finally signaled Melville's canonization as an American man-of-letters. By that time Melville's secure place warranted a full calendar of his letters, which Thorp listed as undertaken by John H. Birss and Robert S. Forsythe. Birss, then of New York University, wrote to Tyrus Hillway on 10 February 1945 announcing that "the collection of M. letters grows—so that I have now three volumes (loose-leaf) of transcripts" and explaining that he had begun his edition while preparing a bibliography of Melville's works because the letters often gave publication details. On 28 April 1945 he reported to Hillway: "The Melville letters now number 181. Of these I lack texts for 17, and there are many original MSS. untraced. Minnigerode is untrustworthy in his printing of the letters, both in dating and transcription. His bib. is even worse. At any rate, texts or partial texts for 164 letters is not a bad haul—considering that back in 1921 Melville letters were considered rarissimi" (Melville Society Papers, The Newberry Library). Birss wrote to Jay Leyda on 3 May 1945 that he planned to include a "calendar of all possible correspondence as the structure of the whole volume" with "any letters to Melville which are pertinent" (UCLA-Leyda). The following February, in 1946, Howard P. Vincent wrote asking Birss to agree to publication of his edition of the letters as a volume in the Packard (later Hendricks House) Edition; however, Birss was evasive and never committed that volume to the Hendricks House series, nor was his edition ever published (Melville Society Papers, The Newberry Library).

As a stop-gap measure, for a summer class at the University of Chicago in 1949 Gordon Roper prepared a mechanically reproduced (holographed) "Collection of Published Melville Letters" (a copy is in The Newberry Library), containing 145 letters either by Melville, to him, or about him (over 40 of them either in extract or summary pg 810form). As Roper stated in the preface, the letters were not transcribed from the original manuscripts but copied "with reasonable accuracy from the published texts."

Not until mid-century were extensive extracts from the known letters and some full texts brought together in book form, in Jay Leyda's The Melville Log (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1951), in his The Portable Melville (New York: Viking Press, 1952), and in Eleanor Melville Metcalf's Herman Melville: Cycle and Epicycle (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953). Finally, with the publication of the Davis and Gilman volume by Yale University Press in 1960 (originally scheduled to be published in 1954), an edition of Melville's then-known letters carefully edited from the manuscripts became available.

Despite his own efforts to the contrary, Melville's "mug" now appears regularly in anthologies, and despite the present drive to revise the canon, no move has been made to displace his works from it, and there is little chance that they will return to relative obscurity. His present major status, coupled with the recent jump in prices for his letters, and soon to be stimulated by the specific listing in this volume of so many unlocated ones, virtually guarantees that more will be brought to light.69 Most likely a number of these will be letters to his American publishers (thirteen of the fifty-two new letters found since the Davis-Gilman edition are to Putnam or Harper & Brothers). The fact that so many nineteenth-century autograph collections contained such letters suggests that the publishers were willing to give away or sell letters from their files. Another scattering will probably be perfunctory letters to collectors. But we may confidently hope that some of these new letters will also be the kind of delightful personal letters Melville sometimes wrote to his family and the boldly revealing ones to literary friends.


Throughout this volume, references to dates, events, and documents for which printed sources are not footnoted or pg 811otherwise indicated are based on the standard biographical and reference works listed with short titles on pp. xi–xiii above, as well as on other volumes of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition, published and forthcoming. Many documents and some factual information not covered by these printed sources have been located in the manuscript collections cited, by the volume editor and by other members of the editorial staff, notably by Hershel Parker in preparation of The New Melville Log and of his forthcoming biography; much of this material will be more fully included in those works. Unless otherwise indicated, however, transcriptions are based on the editor's own examination of the originals; thus, there may be variations between a document as transcribed in these printed and forthcoming sources and as printed here, as well as variations in dating. All quotations are literatim (except for editorial matter supplied in brackets). Unless otherwise specified, all quotations (and page references cited) from Melville's writings follow the Northwestern-Newberry Edition (e.g., vol. 15, Journals).

pg 812

 Herman Melville to Lemuel Shaw, 10 September 1849, Lemuel Shaw Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society


Herman Melville to Lemuel Shaw, 10 September 1849, Lemuel Shaw Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society

Imprint of the initials "A M", of Allan Melvill, Herman Melville's father, made by one of several different signets Allan used to press the hot wax with which he sealed his letters, in the way common before the introduction of envelopes with adhesive flaps. He used this initialed signet to seal his letter of 2 August 1819, in which he announced to his brother-in-law, Peter Gansevoort, the birth of his son Herman on the day before.

Herman Melville himself used various signets. He used this same initialed signet thirty years later, to seal his letter of 6 October 1849 to Lemuel Shaw about his forthcoming visit to London (see pp. 137–39 above). The signet itself is now unlocated. The photoreproduction above is enlarged from the 1.3 × 1 cm imprint it left on that letter, courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Shaw Collection).


1. See pp. 786–88 and 800 below for further discussion of these incidents.

2. The first extensive biographical use of this material was made for purposes of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition, by Hershel Parker in the Historical Note to Moby-Dick (see pp. 586ff.). It will be more extensively excerpted by Parker in The New Melville Log and used in his forthcoming Melville biography.

3. The section on "Sources" at the end of this Note explains its documentation; for a list of abbreviations and short titles used here, see pp. xi–xiii above. The frequent nonstandard spelling and punctuation in the ensuing quotations are those of their manuscript sources. Full texts and information about quotations from Melville's correspondence may be found in the chronologically dated entries above.

4. Helen herself later received while visiting in Lansingburgh a similar, although slightly more muted, rebuke from their sister Augusta in a letter of 21 December 1850 from Pittsfield: "It was high time, Miss Helen, I should think to write to us. Two weeks & not one line from you. I was really beginning to get alarmed, as evening after evening passed without a letter, & was upon the point of writing you again, thinking that you must actually be ill, when it happily arrived" (NYPL-GL).

5. Instances of Melville's role as family postman abound: Maria Gansevoort Melville, for example, reports in a letter of 21 June 1847 to her daughter Augusta, who was visiting in Boston, "Herman was in Albany last week, Kate, the Van Vechtens, Aunt Susan &c — all well — we expect an answer fully to our two letters"—which Melville had presumably carried to them (NYPL-GL). Similarly Hope Savage Shaw writing to Samuel H. Savage on 7 March 1849 reports, "Last Saturday I sent a letter by Herman who was returning as business called him & as I have mentioned before Elizabeth being blessed with a beautiful boy" (MHS–Samuel P. Savage papers).

6. Allan, for example, docketed his letter of 10 November 1838 from their mother "answered the same day" (Berkshire Athenaeum). For examples of Gansevoort's letters to their mother, see Parker, Gansevoort Melville's London Journal and Letters from England, pp. 61–67.

7. Significantly, his first known published piece took the form of a self-confident, highly stylized letter to a father-figure—the letter he actually might have written had his father lived. See the NN Piazza Tales volume, pp. 191–96 and 622–25.

8. The youngest brother, Thomas, remained the only distant traveler in the family. In 1846, at age sixteen, he sailed as a green hand aboard the whaleship Theophilus Chase. Melville's now unlocated 1848 letter to the ship's owner, Henry Willcox, inquiring about its expected date of return, was probably prompted by the impatient concerns of his mother and sisters (see the entry for this letter, p. 108 above).

9. Often news of their brother Herman was solicited from other members of the family by his sisters or mother. For example, their cousin Julia Melvill in Pittsfield where Herman was working replied on 2 June 1837 to such a request from his sister Augusta: "You next desire that I will tell you how Herman comes on in his new line of life, firstly you wish to know if he behaves himself with propriety, next if he conducts himself with politeness. I answer you with pleasure he is very good very polite. You need not feel uneasy about him we will not try to make him quite a savage while he resides in the country as you fear we shall" (NYPL-GL).

10. In writing such a letter on 4 December 1851 to his sister Augusta, then in New York, to remind her to retrieve from Allan his copy of Machiavelli's The Florentine Histories, he concludes abruptly once having stated that purpose: "I hope you have enjoyed yourself in New York. The weather here has been cold as ever. Other than the weather I know not what to write about from Pittsfield. My love to Sophia & the children & to yourself: in which all join." One exception to this silence about daily life in his letters is perhaps his letter of 13 December 1850 to Evert Duyckinck, describing his routine of rising, feeding his horse and cow, and writing until midafternoon dinner time. The humorous tone he writes in, however, only emphasizes how ironically Melville viewed such epistolary accounts.

11. See his 31 March 1877 letter to his brother-in-law John C. Hoadley, where he jocularly writes that, in certain moods, "epistolary obligations" seem "mere moonshine" to him. Similarly, his letter of 20 January 1845 counsels his younger sister Kate: "Now I want you to write me a long letter, dont' take pattern after mine & fill it with nonsence, but send me a sober sheet like a good girl."

12. See also the entry for Melville's [18?] June 1863 letter to his sister Frances Priscilla. She was delighted with this letter, which she found to be "so funny" that she, in turn, enclosed it in a letter of 22 June 1863 to their sister Augusta, with strict instructions to return it.

13. Probably typical was Thomas Melville's complaint in a letter of 18 September 1852 from Boston to their sister Augusta in Pittsfield: "Why does not Herman write me" (NYPL-GL). And when Melville did write, his letter was often made to do double duty—sent by the recipient to other members of the family usually with instructions to return it (see, for example, the entry for the letter Melville wrote to his mother between 29 October and 10 November 1856 while abroad). That Melville was well aware of this practice is clear from his instructions at the close of the 13 November section of his extended 1856 letter from Liverpool to his brother Allan: "By the way, you had better (after reading it) send this letter on to Lizzie, as it may contain items omitted in my letters to her. And Lizzie can send it to Helen &c, if it be worth while."

14. This same numerical contrast is readily apparent in the Gansevoort-Lansing papers in the New York Public Library when the bulging folders of letters from Elizabeth Shaw Melville to Herman's cousin Catherine Gansevoort Lansing are seen side by side with the slim folders of those from Melville to his cousin. According to Amy Puett (later Emmers), "A Calendar of Elizabeth Melville's Letters" (pp. 273–310 in "Melville's Wife: A Study of Elizabeth Shaw Melville," Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1969), Elizabeth Melville wrote over sixty letters to Catherine Gansevoort Lansing, roughly twice as many as her husband. Moreover, Elizabeth Melville's letters were usually much longer than her husband's letters to his cousin. Since this cousin appears to have preserved letters carefully, the contrast is a significant one. Similarly, the fact that only one letter from Melville survives among those preserved by Catherine's brother Henry Gansevoort, also preserved carefully, is another strong indication of the relative infrequency of Melville's letters (see p. 392 above for more about Henry's letter-saving habits).

15. A similar scene is repeated in Maria Gansevoort Melville's letter of 17 May 1847 from Lansingburgh to Augusta in Boston: "Herman just left the room & sends his love to you" (NYPL-GL). No doubt some of the appended greetings were added by the women on their own initiative—messages such as that at the close of his wife's letter of 14 June 1863 from Pittsfield to Frances Priscilla at Gansevoort: "Much love to Mamma in which Herman joins" (NYPL-GL), and possibly even messages like that in her letter of 10 November 1868 to his cousin Catherine Gansevoort: "Herman wished me to say how sorry he was that he was not able to see [Uncle Peter] either of the times he called" (NYPL-GL).

16. At Melville's request, for example, Allan wrote to Evert Duyckinck on 22 July 1846, conveying the news that Melville had met with his shipboard friend Richard T. Greene, the "Toby" of Typee. Since Melville merely requested that his brother write, but did not dictate or outline this letter, it is not entered as a part of the correspondence in this edition. Similarly, no entry is given for Elizabeth Melville's letter of 30 January 1859 to George Duyckinck, communicating the title of her husband's new lecture, "The South Seas," in his absence. This was probably one of a number of letters she wrote on his behalf while he was traveling on the lecture circuit, although no others have been located (see Log, II, 598).

17. Maria Melville wrote the word "man" over the apparent word "son".

18. For yet another example of Maria Melville's practice of taking aim at her son in letters to her daughters, see pp. 631–33 above. See also Melville's letter of 12 February 1851 to Evert Duyckinck, for his refusal to have his "mug" published in the Dollar Magazine. His adamancy on this point clearly became a matter of comment within the family. In a letter of 23 December 1854, Allan Melville wrote to their mother, then in Pittsfield, ending with: "Ask Herman to write what he is doing.… Does he regret that his portrait does not appear with the 40 odd in Clarks book" (NYPL-GL; Allan refers to The Knickerbocker Gallery [New York: Hueston, 1855]). No reply from Melville is known.

19. "Herman Melville," Saturday Review of Literature 5 (27 April 1929), 945. Mather's visit of about "twenty-five years ago" can be more precisely dated by the 28 September 1906 letter of introduction that Edmund C. Stedman wrote to Bessie Melville on his behalf (see Metcalf, pp. 291–92).

20. Each of those given to Mansfield, Sealts, and Williams was affixed to a photograph of Melville. See Sealts to Horth, 13 September 1991, in the Melville Edition files, also Williams to Tyrus Hillway, n.d., and Arnold Bartini to Donald Yannella, 7 August 1978, in the Melville Society Papers (The Newberry Library). Still other clipped autographs (in effect signatures, if not always intended as such) survive tipped into copies of Melville's works (some given by family members as gifts after his death): see the entry on p. 539 above for one in a copy of John Marr which bears enough of a postmark to establish that he wrote to his wife from Florida; see also Sealts, Early Lives, p. 63, for reproduction of one in a copy of Timoleon. That some of the autographs came from letters to others, not just from envelopes addressed to his wife, is suggested by Henry K. Metcalf's letter of 2 January 1954 to Tyrus Hillway, which inquired: "Have you one of Melville's autographs which were cut out of letters and envelopes? If not, and if you would care to have one, Mrs. Metcalf wants me to say that she would be glad to send it to you" (Melville Society Papers, The Newberry Library).

21. Confirming their conclusion, Sealts (in the letter to Horth cited above) writes that the clipped autograph Mrs. Metcalf gave him appears to have been preceded by "Mrs."—that is, it was probably from an envelope addressed to "Mrs. Herman Melville." A similar collection of eight clipped Melville autographs is in NYPL-GL; they are of uncertain origin. Four of these clippings bear remnants of postmarks (but not enough to establish a place or date), showing that they came from addressed envelopes. A fifth bears a complimentary close (see the entry on p. 536 above), and three more have slight remnants of further writing at the edges. Davis and Gilman noted another with a complimentary close that is at present unlocated (see the entry on p. 539 above).

22. For Jay Leyda's surmise as to which family members seem to have burned these and other Melville letters after his death, see Log I, xiv–xv.

23. See Melville's 5 October 1885 letter to her, p. 490 above.

24. See Joyce D. and Frederick J. Kennedy, "In Pursuit of Manuscripts: True Yarns, or, Seek and Ye Shall Find," Melville Society Extracts 43 (September 1980), 8–11, for the unearthing of Melville's letter to Samuel Savage and other Savage family material. Another family connection with whom he may have corresponded was the nephew of his aunt Susan Lansing Gansevoort, Edwin Yates Lansing, to whom Melville inscribed a copy of Battle-Pieces; however, no record of any correspondence was found in Lansing's August 1878–July 1892 letterbook (both the inscribed copy and the letterbook formerly in the collection of Richard Manney).

25. See Log, I, xiii. Ley da does not cite the following passage or refer specifically to family letters, but quotes only the passage from Pierre that is quoted below on p. 795, about Pierre's bonfire of "silly" letters from admirers of his writings.

26. Patricia Barber, "Two New Melville Letters," American Literature 49 (November 1977), 418–21.

27. For reports, see the New York Times, 28 December 1983, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, 21 November 1984. The "Augusta papers" came from the barn of an elderly woman near the town of Gansevoort, New York, where Augusta Melville last lived in the old family mansion. They were initially noticed by a local historian, Francis E. Plumeau, who described them in a 10 February 1984 letter to Jay Leyda as being in "trunks" when he first saw and photographed them (UCLA-Leyda). Apparently a portion, if not all, of them had been transferred to a cardboard box when an antique dealer spotted them and contacted the DeMarcos of the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, who arranged for their sale to the New York Public Library. There they have been added in three manuscript containers to the extensive Gansevoort-Lansing Collection, which already included some four hundred containers of manuscript materials. The find proved both rich and disappointing—adding, as already noted, only a few actual letters to Melville's correspondence, but containing other family letters citing thirty-six unlocated letters to or from him. Overall, the "Augusta papers" have served to give a fuller picture of Melville's domestic circumstances and of what his wife, sisters, and mother were like personally. Since 1983 a few further miscellaneous manuscript items, none by Melville, were sold by the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore and are now in the collection of William Reese.

28. Ironically, the one "Melville letter" mentioned in Evert Duyckinck's other correspondence was apparently a forgery. Duyckinck wrote to William Gilmore Simms on 1 June 1869: "The Melville letter must be a stupid joke of some possessor of the volume. It is not in M's hand writing and of course is not at all like him in any way. I will return it to you presently — though I do not see how I can throw any further light upon it. It is a curious affair even in the light of a stupid hoax" (Edmund Clarence Stedman Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University). Simms's preceding letter to Duyckinck enclosing the forgery is unlocated, and nothing more is known about the forgery.

29. Only one exchange of letters (now unlocated) between Melville and Mathews is known to have occurred—in August 1850—and only two notes to Adler (now unlocated) are recorded in Melville's 1849–50 journal. The only relic of whatever correspondence Melville may have had with Butler is a large manila envelope addressed "Herman Melville Esq. | Care of E A Duyckinck | 20 Clinton Place | With compliments of William Allen Butler" (NYPL-D). No known evidence points to any correspondence with Davidson or with Powell.

31. Another contributing factor to Melville's relatively meager output of letters was his strained eyesight. As his letters of 6 October and 13 December 1850 to Evert Duyckinck and of 16 October 1860 to Sam Shaw all comment, he found it painful to read or write after nightfall; daylight hours, of course, had to be mostly reserved for the writing that was his livelihood, or later for his Custom House job.

32. That Melville felt impatient with the niceties of formal letter-writing is apparent in various comments in his letters. In his [17?] November 1851 letter to Hawthorne, he warned: "Don't think that by writing me a letter, you shall always be bored with an immediate reply to it — and so keep both of us delving over a writing-desk eternally. No such thing! I sha'n't always answer your letters, and you may do just as you please." See also his letters of 19 January 1847, 19 August 1848, [10?] March 1854, 27 January 1888, 5 December 1889 (to Austin), and 13 February 1890 for his use of "&c" to abbreviate a formal opening or closing.

33. See pp. 150–51 above. Willis's papers have been lost, and this excerpt is the only remnant of Melville's correspondence with him now known; again, just how extensive it may have been is hard to tell.

34. Neither reply is located, but see Melville's subsequent letters of 19 June 1848 to Murray (referring to the "Antarctic tenor" of Murray's reply) and 3 March 1849 to Duyckinck (mentioning Duyckinck's charge of "irreverence").

35. See the headnote to Melville's [16 April?] 1851 letter for a fuller quotation from Sophia Hawthorne's letter.

36. These reviews probably surprised Julian Hawthorne. In a long letter in the New-York Daily Tribune on 8 July 1876, he had protested George Parsons Lathrop's publication of several letters to Hawthorne (including portions of Melville's [16 April?] 1851 letter) on the grounds that they were "letters of a peculiarly private and delicate nature." Underlying this protest no doubt was Julian's outrage that Lathrop, his brother-in-law, had usurped his own plans for publishing these letters, but his public description of them as "private and delicate" is significant. Lathrop defended his book, A Study of Hawthorne (Boston: Osgood, 1876), from Julian's charges of impropriety in a rejoinder published in the Tribune on 15 July, stating that he had printed no more than a half-dozen letters, which were not "of a confidential nature," and going on to explain that "they consist of letters from other persons to Nathaniel Hawthorne; and the consent of the writers was obtained in all cases." (See the entry for Lathrop's unlocated letter to Melville requesting that consent, p. 711 above, and Melville's 10 August 1883 letter to Julian prior to the publication of his book.) See also footnote 53 below, for the reaction of one member of Melville's family—his second cousin Mary Louise Peebles—who found the publication of his private letters in Julian Hawthorne's book "indiscreet"—probably the reaction Julian expected.

37. See bk. 15, sect. iii, pp. 227–28, for Pierre's letter to his cousin Glen, with its "words … placarded upon it in heavy though rapid lines, only six or eight to the page"—a description that could also describe Melville's own hand in a number of his letters, particularly those to his cousin Augustus Van Schaick (see the reproduction on p. 90 above). See also bk. 23, sect. ii, pp. 309–11, for Lucy's "artless, angelical letter."

38. See bk. 12, sect. iii, pp. 197–98 (quoted on p. 789 above); bk. 17, sect. i, pp. 247–48; bk. 17, sect. ii, pp. 250–52; bk. 17, sect. iii, pp. 254–55.

39. Does this bonfire also point to an actual bonfire of Melville's literary letters that had already occurred by the time he wrote his romance? Certainly a number of such letters addressed to Melville do survive, but none dated before 1852, when Pierre appeared. The only known remnants of Melville's early fan mail are the letters from Mrs. Ellen Astor Oxenham, an Englishwoman living in New York. Although these are addressed to Melville's sister Augusta, two contain comments directed toward Melville. On 5 October 1846, for example, she blurted out: "Typee, you dear creature; I want to see you so amazingly" (NYPL-GL). No doubt other such letters were addressed directly to Melville after the popular success of Typee (see, for example, his 24 July 1846 reply to Dr. William Sprague's now unlocated request for an autograph: "You remember some one woke one morning and found himself famous — And here am I, just come in from hoeing in the garden, writing autographs"). For another literary immolation, this time fueled by his own manuscripts, see Melville's undated but late unpublished poem "Immolated" (see Hennig Cohen, ed., Selected Poems of Herman Melville [Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964], p. 166; see also the forthcoming vol. 13 of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition).

40. For Gansevoort Melville's preparations to become a man-of-letters, see the selections from his Index Rerum, begun in 1837, in the New Log.

41. Bruce Redford, The Converse of the Pen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 10. Notably, Melville's confessional letters are often signed differently from his usual "Sincerely" or "Truly yours, H. Melville." His 25 March 1848 pronouncement to Murray closes emphatically "In all sincerity Yours | Herman Melville"; however, his 6 October 1849 letter to Dana concludes "Yours — a sea-brother — | H Melville"; his 24 August 1851 letter to his wife's half-cousin Samuel Savage closes with "Really Thine" and similarly his 31 December 1863 letter to his old friend Evert Duyckinck closes with "Thine"; and perhaps most significantly his [17?] November 1851 letter to Hawthorne is simply signed "Herman"—the one time he is known to have signed only his first name in a letter to anyone but a family member.

42. See Melville's 5 June 1849, 27 June 1850, and 16 April 1852 letters to Bentley. (There is no letter about White-Jacket since Melville proposed it to Bentley face to face in London in 1849.) See also Lynn Horth, "Richard Bentley's Place in Melville's Literary Career," Studies in the American Renaissance 1992, pp. 229—45, for a fuller discussion of Melville's letters to Bentley.

43. See, for example, his business letters of 18 September 1854 to the Harpers and of 15 September 1857 to G. W. Curtis.

44. As a result, Melville's biographers have focused on his friendship with Hawthorne almost to the exclusion of others that went undocumented in letters.

45. Log, II, 781. See also the entry for Melville's two unlocated 1882 letters to the club, pp. 479–80 above.

46. See the entry for his unlocated letter of regret written before 27 September 1855.

47. Nevertheless, destroying letters apparently was not a consistent or immediate practice; he goes on in his 10 December letter to Miss Van Matre to acknowledge having some letters in his possession ("Such as I have by me would hardly be to your purpose").

48. See the headnote to Melville's 10 August 1883 letter to Julian. Some scholars have questioned whether Melville did in fact destroy his letters from Hawthorne. In a 25 January 1945 letter to Tyrus Hillway, Harrison Hayford argued, "I suspect that Hawthorne's letters might exist—the ones he wrote Melville, though Melville told Julian they were destroyed. Why should he destroy them, when he preserved the books so carefully and proudly?" (Melville Society Papers, The Newberry Library). Davis and Gilman, as well as Ley da, conducted hopeful but fruitless searches for them.

49. All of these letters were docketed for filing in Elizabeth Shaw Melville's hand (see the manuscript descriptions). Some of the business letters were evidently preserved on Melville's instructions, such as the 19 June 1889 one from the Harpers on which he noted "Please preserve." Just how successful his wife was in preserving what remained of the letters her husband had received over the years is uncertain. In a letter of 2 November 1892 to Arthur Stedman, who advised her on publication matters after her husband's death, she wrote: "Before speaking of any business matters [with a Mr. Phelps], I should like to consult with you. The Bentley letters are at hand for you at your own convenience. I shall be glad to collect my scattered papers together once more — as soon as I have little more leisure I shall set them out in better regular order" (Edmund Clarence Stedman Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University). Only one letter from Richard Bentley to Melville—that of 5 March 1849—now survives among his papers at the Houghton Library, yet this 1892 letter to Stedman suggests that Elizabeth Melville once had a number of the Bentley letters (now known only from the letterbooks) in her possession. She had at least one—that of 20 June 1849—which Stedman had already examined by 24 October 1892. Writing to the United States Book Co. in a letter of that date, he mentioned the letter in an effort to convince the company that the reissue of Melville's works in England would not be hampered by earlier copyright agreements: "It will be interesting for you to know that, in 1852 (I think), Mr. Bentley, who had already published copyrighted editions of 'White Jacket' and 'Moby Dick', wrote Mr. Melville that a recent (act or) decision had left the matter of copyrighting American books in England in such a doubtful state that he could not make the same advantageous terms for a proposed new book by Mr. Melville as for the previous ones.… I have not consulted Mrs. Melville in this matter, for the reasons indicated above. As I have examined Mr. Melville's papers very thoroughly since his death, I really know more about these matters than she does" (Beinecke Library, Yale University). The fact that Stedman misdated the letter suggests that he probably also saw at least one of the 1852 letters Bentley wrote to Melville.

50. These drafts were to J. W. Henry Canoll and W. Clark Russell; see pp. 493–95 and 498–500.

51. Melville's business-related letters—such as those to his publishers and to his father-in-law, Judge Shaw—tend to be cleanly written (see the reproduction, p. 101 above, from his 1 January 1848 letter to Murray). Offhand notes to family and friends tend to be more scrawled (see the reproduction, on p. 374 above, of his 2 May 1862 letter to his sister Augusta). Rose Hawthorne Lathrop described Melville's handwriting in his letter of 22 July 1851 to her father as "being, apparently, 'writ in water'" (Memories of Hawthorne [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1897], p. 155), and Sophia Hawthorne found it necessary to interline most of his 8 January 1852 letter to her with a penciled transcription, with one word undeciphered.

52. See the entries for this unlocated correspondence, pp. 436 and 711. After her husband's death, Elizabeth Shaw Melville also expressed reluctance to permit the publication of some of the wording in two of Melville's letters, although probably for different, more personal reasons. In the Houghton Mifflin papers, now at Harvard, is a letter of 30 May 1897 from Rose Hawthorne Lathrop soon after the firm published her Memories of Hawthorne. She enclosed "two letters from Mrs. Melville, which may lead you to have the words she objects to in her husband's letters, in 'Memories of Hawthorne,' omitted. I have argued with her by letter as well as I knew how, but this does not seem to have made her any happier than she was before. If I can or should do anything about having the words erased, will you let me know? Perhaps the opinion of some one else would, if favorable to my idea of leaving a man of genius safely in care of his own expressions, have effect in inducing Mrs. Melville to let the printed record stand as it is." Neither of these letters from Elizabeth Shaw Melville has been located, so we do not know just what words she wanted excised from her husband's letters of 22 July and [17?] November 1851. Rose Lathrop's biographer, Theodore Maynard, later conjectured, wrongly, that the ellipsis points at the end of Melville's 22 July letter in both Mrs. Lathrop's magazine and book publications of it were the result of Elizabeth Shaw Melville's objections; see A Fire Was Lighted: The Life of Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1948), pp. 306–9. However, both the date of Rose Lathrop's letter to Houghton Mifflin and its content make clear that Elizabeth Melville's protests were not raised until after publication of the book. She had earlier consented (perhaps without seeing them) to the publication of both by Rose Lathrop in the November 1894 Century Magazine, where her "kind permission" is acknowledged. A few years later Elizabeth Melville again attempted to censor her husband's writings, this time successfully when Moby-Dick was being reissued by Dana Estes & Co. in the United States and G. P. Putnam's Sons in Great Britain. A letter of 28 April 1900 to her from the Publishers Plate Renting Co. states: "Replying to yours of the 26th inst., we are very glad that you have given your consent to Mess. G. P. Putnam's Sons publishing an edition of 'Moby Dick,' in Great Britain.… We informed them of your wish that the foot-note on Pp 366 was to be left out" (HCL-M). The footnote in question elaborated on "Leviathan amours," describing, among other matters, a whale's "two teats, curiously situated, one on each side of the anus" (chap. 87, p. 388).

53. In addition to the extract published by Willis, mentioned above, p. 792, an extract from a [December 1837?] letter to Charles Van Loon was printed in the Albany Microscope exchange and a September 1867 letter was included by John Hoadley in his newspaper report about Malcolm Melville's death. George Parsons Lathrop ultimately printed only part of Melville's [16 April?] 1851 letter, which Julian Hawthorne later printed, apparently in full, along with three others in his Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife (1884). A comment about this book in an 1885 letter from Melville's second cousin Mary Louise Peebles to Abraham Lansing gives further evidence that Melville was reluctant to have his private letters published: "I have been reading Hawthornes life and find it very entertaining, principally because it is so indiscreet. It does not chloroform the poor little literary butterflies in its collection, but just sticks a pin through them, and calls you to look. I wonder if Herman Melville was consulted about the appearance of his name? I should think some of the allusions would be very trying to a person of his sensitive nature" (Log, II, 790).

54. Log, II, 669.

55. Emerson's letter of condolence, for example, is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library and Longfellow's in the Houghton Library of Harvard University.

56. After the revival of Melville's reputation Henry Salt wrote to Willard Thorp on 1 September 1935 that "about what became of the originals I have no notion, unless I sold them! Alas, one often regrets these things, when too late." Herbert Russell (Russell's son) wrote to Thorp on 27 August 1935, "in reply to many requests I have made all possible efforts to ascertain whether any of these letters are still in existence but have failed to trace them and am pretty sure they have long since vanished. You see, in those days we did not regard private correspondence as likely to have a 'commercial value' and took less trouble to preserve it." James Billson wrote to Thorp on 16 February 1936: "I sold the letters together with some of Melville's 1st editions to an English bookseller & he no doubt sold them in his turn" (The Newberry Library). All of the letters Melville is known to have written to Billson (those Billson published in The Nation and the Athenæum and one other one) and probably all those he wrote to Salt have subsequently come on the market. One of Melville's letters to Russell has subsequently appeared, but at least two others can be inferred (see pp. 498–500, 510, and 523–24 above).

57. Nor do the published reminiscences of Richard Lathers and Richard H. Stoddard (see pp. 259–60 and 421–22)—who do mention knowing him—quote any of his letters.

58. At the auction held on behalf of the Cincinnati sanitary fair, for example, the two Melville letters offered separately (see pp. 386–88 above) sold for twenty and fifty cents, while two Hawthorne letters sold for $1.90 and $1.60 and a John Adams letter for $5.00. The William Evarts Benjamin Catalogue 2 (pre–1889) listed an unidentified Melville letter for $1.00 (where prices generally ranged between fifty cents and $2.00, with some exceptions—such as $6.00 for an Edmund C. Stedman manuscript poem). Benjamin's December 1896 catalogue included a large Melville signature for fifty cents. Goodspeed's September 1905 Catalogue 34 listed a half-page 1855 note for seventy-five cents (this could have been any one of the five short letters to publishers now known for 1855 or another unidentified letter). By 1914 the price of a Melville letter in a james F. Drake catalogue had risen to $3.50 for his 20 February 1854 letter, while the price of a letter by Francis Parkman was $5.00 and that of a Thomas Paine letter $100.00. Twenty of the letters published in this volume were originally included in early autograph collections assembled in the nineteenth century, including the collections of Albert Lee Butler, Ferdinand J. Dreer, Simon Gratz, Gordon Lester Ford, James Lorimer Graham, Adrian H. Joline, S. Whitney Phoenix, Albert W. Whelpley, and James Grant Wilson, as well as the unidentified collectors who purchased the three Melville letters sold at the Cincinnati sanitary fair.

59. After the rediscovery of Melville in the early 1920's, prices for his letters began to climb. Thomas F. Madigan listed Melville's 5 July 1872 letter to Richard H. Stoddard for $50 in 1934. By 1948 Howard S. Mott was asking $650 for two of Melville's letters to Augustus Van Schaick accompanied by one from Melville's sister Helen. And in 1966 Paul C. Richards listed a brief note dated only "Wednesday Morning" to Duyckinck for $1250. Quaritch's price of $10,000 for Melville's 27 March 1879 letter to G. P. Putnam's Sons set a new high in 1988, and with the H. Bradley Martin sale in 1990, which included twenty-four Melville letters, prices over $10,000 have become common. The 19th Century Shop in its October 1992 catalogue listed Melville's 20 July 1851 letter to Richard Bentley for $95,000.

60. UCLA-Leyda. Julian Hawthorne's notebook (Pierpont Morgan Library) reveals that in preparation for the volume he was meticulously listing the letters his father had saved, and included on his "Summary" page all four of the Melville letters he had listed earlier as "important letters." His notebook is also significant in that it records that one of Melville's 1851 letters was esteemed highly enough that it was kept in an autograph book. Julian Hawthorne would certainly have known their value after 1931 when the auction of Melville's 8 January 1852 letter to Sophia Hawthorne for $3,100 at Anderson Galleries was widely publicized; see, for example, the New York Times, 30 April 1931.

61. Julian's sister Rose Hawthorne Lathrop also is known to have sold some of the papers she inherited from their father. Her letter of 29 August 1887 to Houghton Mifflin discusses her plans to sell Hawthorne's "autographs" with the publisher's help. She also adds, "The letters I would sell for a hundred dollars, also" (HCL-Houghton Mifflin). These letters possibly included the two Melville letters she published; see pp. 199–200 and 210–14 above.

62. The same fate may also have befallen Melville's 30 April 1872 letter to Samuel Adams Drake in the 1963 breakup of the J. C. Pearson estate, and possibly Melville's 10 August 1883 letter to Julian Hawthorne in the 1988 breakup of the H. Bradley Martin estate.

63. See the Note on the Text, p. 817, footnote 10, below, for six other letters whose texts are now available only because of their publication in the Davis and Gilman edition.

64. Sealts, Early Lives, p. 59.

65. In a letter of 20 November 1906 Billson explained to Bessie Melville: "A letter has reached me from Mr Mather stating it is intended to write a memoir of Herman Melville & asking if I have any material that will help in its production. I am happy to be able to enclose copies of all the letters received from him & I hope they will be of use in carrying out your object. I have carefully checked the copies myself & can vouch for their correctness. But if for any reason you prefer to have the originals, I shall be glad to forward them if you will acquaint me with your wishes" (HCL-M). The copies Billson sent are now in HCL-M; however, those sent by Henry Salt are now unlocated. Only an undated note to Salt ("Miss Melville begs to acknowledge the receipt of copies of two letters from her father"), now in the Melville Collection of The Newberry Library, indicates their having been made and sent. This drive for letters in 1906 may also account for the typewritten transcript Edmund C. Stedman made of Melville's 20 February 1888 letter to him, now in the Stedman Papers of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University, and for the handwritten copy Havelock Ellis made of Melville's 10 August 1890 letter to him, now in the Huntington Library. There is no evidence, however, to support the following assertion made in the Bernard Quaritch Catalogue 1083, February 1988, under item 30: "Melville's letters are notoriously rare, the bulk of them having been arbitrarily destroyed by his family after soliciting the originals."

66. For the donation, see the NN Confidence-Man, p. 402. In 1919, Mrs. Metcalf, clearly pleased that an interest was being taken in her grandfather's papers, wrote to her mother (Melville's daughter Frances) on 28 September that "Mr. Weaver arrived yesterday afternoon and fell upon the records with enthusiasm. He is a keen, comprehending young man, eager about his subject" (HCL-M).

67. Beginning in 1907 various scholars published shorter sequences of letters or single ones from individual collections, as recorded in the notes to the letters in this volume.

68. Thorp also published for the first time Melville's only known letter to Daniel Shepherd (6 July 1859) in the poetry section of his volume—an event which exasperated Henry A. Murray, who had obtained it from Agnes Morewood, framed it, and given it to Mrs. Metcalf, by whose permission Thorp printed it (see Harrison Hayford's interview with Murray in Melville Society Extracts, forthcoming). Subsequently, along with Melville's canonization would come a continuing number of such contretemps among scholars, caused mostly by the scarcity of Melville-related manuscript materials.

69. For the increasing value of his letters, see footnote 59 above. Even as this volume was going into final proofs, Ruth Blair of the University of Tasmania arrived at The Newberry Library and shared her discovery of Melville's 29 November [1862?] letter (see pp. 379–80 above).

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