Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Plea from Hershel Parker: Who Can Find an Unknown Printing of a Poem by Herman Melville?

Melville's copying out "The Age of the Antonines" on 31 March 1877 may have inspired him to try to get it (or perhaps another poem) into print.  On 17 June 1877 his sister Fanny wrote to Kate Gansevoort Lansing: "Ever so much love for Abe.  Did he receive the paper containing those lines by Herman?  'Why I am A Churchman' has arrived; many thanks for sending it on, I wanted to read it."  The context, members of the family passing on reading material, suggests strongly that Fanny or someone else had sent Abe a newspaper containing some poetry by Herman in it, but no such publication has been found. Can anyone find it?


  1. Are you sure the thought process from the two sentences is connected? Or could the lines from Melville be just some small poem printed in the newspaper and the "Why I'm a Churchman," being a longer work by another author sent separately ? Doing a quick search, it looks like there were a number of pamphlets of the same title mostly authored by ministers.

  2. Nate, I am pretty sure Fanny is ticking off items. She wants to know if Abe received the lines by Herman, clearly "by" him. And she wants him to know that the other item arrived. I don't have any idea of the length of the "lines" by Herman, except that he had recently copied out "The Age of the Antonines." And "lines" mean lines of poetry, in the family usage. This seems clear to me--if only someone could find those lines. I have tried several 1877 newspaper databases of Melville's name (spelled variously!) and for "Antonines." Of course the lines could have been other poems in that "lot" of papers HM had come across. (Lot being used as in auctions, still, not meaning just "many.") It's a mystery still.