The collection of Augusta Melville papers, 1796-1863, consists primarily of over 500 letters, chiefly addressed to Augusta Melville, sister of author Herman Melville, and members of her extended family and friends. These letters describe in considerable detail the lives and daily activities of the writers, including travel, social doings and health matters. The portion of the collection directly pertaining to Herman Melville consists of eight letters sent or received, a fragment of a manuscript of Bartleby, the Scrivener in an unknown hand; thirty pages of the first draft of Typee in Melville's hand, 1845, and family letters in which he is mentioned. The collection also contains personal and business notebooks kept by family members, an autobiographical sketch by his sister Frances, a brief journal written at sea by his brother Thomas, and family artifacts (trunks and business signs).
Family correspondents include all Melville siblings, their parents and spouses, many of their children, and cousins spanning three generations on both Melville and Gansevoort sides of the family. Few letters are neither to nor from Augusta. With the exception of the four letters written to Herman Melville, which are filed together, all correspondence is arranged by author's name. The collection is arranged in the following order: Herman Melville, his immediate family (parents, wife, children and siblings), and then, in one alphabetical sequence, other family members and friends. Within each folder, the letters are chronologically arranged. Occasionally two individuals wrote on the same letter. These are indicated by "see also" references. A folder of unsorted material contains letters from unidentified correspondents, loose fragments, poems and notes, and a government off-print. Loose envelopes are chiefly to Augusta Melville, in chronological order; these are followed by four envelopes (one each) to General H. Gansevoort, Gansevoort Lansing, Miss Van Rensselaer, and William H. Ryalls.
The letters describe in considerable detail the lives and daily activities of the writers, including travel, social doings and health matters. It is evident from the correspondence that these family members and friends represented a fairly tight-knit circle who kept themselves apprised of each other's lives. Approximately 141 of these letters contain references to Herman Melville, concerning his whereabouts, well-being, writing, publishing pursuits and family. The letters by his mother, Maria Gansevoort Melville (1791-1872), are particular substantive.
The portion of the collection directly pertaining to Herman Melville consists of the following: a letter from Melville to his brother, Allan, 1849 February 20, concerning the birth of Herman's first child, Malcolm; an undated letter to Augusta, regarding a book Augusta was to retrieve from Allan; a postscript on a letter from his younger son, Stanwix, to Augusta, taking the blame for the delay in sending the letter and reporting on the household, 1862 April 30; four letters to Melville, including one from Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne, 1851 March 27; a fragment of a manuscript of Bartleby, the Scrivener in an unknown hand; thirty pages of the first draft of Typee in Melville's hand, representing most of Chapters 12-14 of the Northwestern edition, 1845 and the aforementioned family letters referring to Herman Melville. It should be noted that the single leaf of Typee previously acquired by the Library is from Chapter 14 of the same draft.
While the bulk of the collection consists of correspondence, there are a few non-letter items. The papers of Allan Melvill (1782-1832), Herman's father, includes a surveying exercise workbook, 1796, and a shipping record book containing mounted newspaper clippings noting the arrival of French imported goods, 1828-1830. The folder of letters written by Augusta Melville also contains notebooks and three keepsakes. The notebooks are a record of the letters she sent and received, 1849 December-1854 February (two notebooks loosely sewn together); and (in one notebook) a record of her charitable donations, 1849 January-August, and list of her wardrobe, 1849 December. The keepsakes, each wrapped in identifying paper, are: a lock of her friend Mary Blatchford Griswold's hair, received from her mother and dated New York, 1852 June 5; pressed flowers for "Augusta," dated Lansingburgh, 1847 July 6; and pressed flowers "from Teny V.R.'s [Justine Van Rensselaer's] bridal bouquet Feb'y 2d 1853 Manor House." The folder for Frances Melville includes a three-page autobiographical sketch entitled "Myself;" Thomas Melville's folder includes a brief journal from a sea voyage on the ship Navigator of Boston, ; and the folder for Jean Melvill Wright contains only a record of letters sent and received, 1800-1802. With the papers, the Library also received three family trunks, two of which have name plates for Maria Gansevoort Melville and Allan Melvill, parents of Herman Melville, and four metal business signs: three for Herman's brother Gansevoort Melville, attorney and solicitor, and one for his father, Allan Melvill, dealing in French Goods.
Ownership: The papers probably belonged to Herman Melville's sister, Augusta Melville, (1821-1876) who left them to her sister, Frances Priscilla (Fanny) Melville (1827-1885). Upon her death, the papers passed into non-family hands, where they remained until they were discovered in 1983 and subsequently acquired by The New York Public Library.
Acquisition: Purchased from Lyrical Ballad Bookstore, 1983.