Lot 102 of 253:
Herman Melville's older brother - rare 1844 political letter   

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Lot closed - unsold
$1,500 - $2,500

Herman Melville's older brother and mentor launches his ill-fated political career while the future author is still at sea

Melville, Gansevoort

New York




Autograph Letter Signed. New York, March 9, 1844. 2pp.+ stampless address leaf. To Isaac H. Wright, Editor, Bay State Democrat, Boston. 

Regretfully declines an invitation to “address the great democratic meeting” at Faneuil Hall in Boston, because he had been “selected to pronounce an address before the Democracy of the City of New York” on “the anniversary of the birthday of Andrew Jackson…We expect to turn out full 5000 strong and if the Democrats of Boston beat those of N.Y. on this interesting occasion in numbers, devotion or enthusiasm, they must indeed do their best…” Letters by Gansevoort Melville, who played an important part in his brother's early life, but died just before Herman achieved literary fame, are rare; this is only the second we have seen in ten years.

Just at this letter was written by his brother,  24 year-old Herman Melville was leaving the Hawaiian Islands on the last leg of a voyage of four years of adventure as a sailor aboard merchant ships, a whaling vessel, and a Naval warship in the South Seas – a rich experience on which “Moby Dick” and his other writing would be based.  After clerking for Gansevoort in a failed fur business, Herman had gone to sea with his brother’s aid and encouragement. During his long absence, Gansevoort had moved to New York City to become a lawyer – and a budding politician. In that election year, he would be nationally-acclaimed as a political orator for Democratic presidential nominee James Polk, his meteoric rise beginning with the “Jackson Jubilee” speech to a New York mass meeting which he forecasts in this letter – lauded as “the most famous and important speech of his life” on the website of a libertarian think-tank where Gansevoort is described as a “radical Democrat” full of “naïve optimism” who might have risen to the same heights in politics as Herman was destined to do in literature.

Gansevoort had spoken at the Democratic National Convention in Nashville and to cheering crowds in the south and midwest when, seven months later, Herman’s Naval vessel docked at Boston. He proceeded to join Gansevoort at his New York law office near Wall Street, where, in the last weeks of the political campaign, he began to sketch out his first novel. When the ballots were counted, Polk won the Presidency  - and Gansevoort was rewarded with a patronage appointment as Secretary of the US Legation in London. In the summer of 1845, Gansevoort sailed for England, taking with him the manuscript of Herman’s Typee, which had already been rejected by Harper & Brothers “on the grounds that it was too fantastic to be true.” In London, Gansevoort persuaded a British publisher to issue the book in March 1846, followed by US publication a half-year later. Herman sent Gansevoort a copy of the American imprint, but he never received it. Gansevoort died suddenly in London of an attack of fever on May 12, 1846 – for Herman, the tragic loss of one of the most significant figures in the writer’s early life.

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Very good.

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