Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Groveling Apology to Donald Yannella, Who Knew his Way Around the Duyckinck Papers

At the 1991 centennial meeting in Pittsfield Donald Yannella alluded to Sarah Morewood's improper fascination with George L. Duyckinck. We all shouted him down, I crying, "She was a religious woman!"

Well, Yannella had read Sarah's letters in the Duyckinck Collection and none of the rest of us had.

I thought I knew her through the letters in the Augusta Papers and in the Log, but I knew only part of the story, and in fact had not known what to make of one fragment of a letter about a servant sent with a midnight message across the hill from Broadhall to Arrowhead. Later, Lion Gardiner Miles, a Berkshire researcher, went to Yale for me to look in the Gardiner papers (his family's papers) where he found a dumbfounding letter about Sarah's notorious pursuit of the young brother-in-law of President Tyler two summers before Melville's Idyl in the Berkshires.

I was still naive in 1991, slow to learn that minor members of my cast of characters might be much more complex than I was giving them credit for being. I thank Lion Miles and apologize here to Yannella for simplifying a very complicated woman and wrongly challenging him in public. I was right about Helen Melville when I challenged Yannella that day in 1991, but embarrassingly wrong about Sarah Morewood--much more wrong than even Yannella or anyone else knew at that time.

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