Letters and Family Correspondence

Background: Melville Letters & Family Networks.

The 1993 Northwestern-Newberry Correspondence edition includes texts of 313 letters by Melville and entries on 237 unlocated letters alluded to in other letters. Also included are 88 letters written to Melville and 305 entries with allusions to correspondence, including letters to publishers, for which only partial texts exist. These letters and NN editor Lynn Horth’s wealth of correspondence information have not been digitized.

Nor has the Melville family correspondence from parents, siblings, cousins, and in-laws been edited. This untapped resource is a biographical and critical opening into Melville’s formative and productive years. NYPL holds the largest cache of family correspondence in three collections. Over 300 unedited letters (discovered in 1983 and known as the Augusta Papers) stand separately from a pre-existing collection of another two hundred letters. Both sets of family correspondence, organized by letter-writer in individual folders, are held in the Gansevoort-Lansing Collection. NYPL’s Duyckinck Collection also contains additional Melville and Melville family letters. Other important holdings are at Houghton, Berkshire Athenaeum, Beinecke, Boston Public, and Univeristy of Virginia libraries, with single items located at 31 other repositories. Scholars, including Bryant, Kelley, Lori Robertson-Lorant, and Hershel Parker, have used their independent transcriptions of these unedited letters in their scholarship, and yet the full critical impact of this network of correspondence cannot be realized until all letters have been digitized and transcribed.

Challenges of Editing Correspondence.

In developing MEL’s correspondence edition, we will explore ways to code content in TEI and curate correspondence data in OCHRE so that we may sort and display letters by various filters, including date, place, writer, recipient, people and events referenced, and repository. We also aim to “network” the correspondence in ways that will not only facilitate the tracking of letter-writing behaviors but also integrate by date Melville’s familiar literary letters alongside the family correspondence as a way to examine more concretely the writer’s growth in the context of his domestic world and the family’s influence on his writing.

Work in Progress.

In support of their individual research projects, MEL Director Bryant and Associate Director Kelley have created, over the years, transcriptions of correspondence based on their independent, direct inspections of selected letters at NYPL. In 2017, they and MEL Associate Director Christopher Ohge and MEL researcher Rebecca Cheong initiated a project for digitally editing both Melville’s Letters and the Melville Family Correspondence. In 2018, Bryant downloaded images from the already digitized Duyckinck Collection from the NYPL online catalogue. NYPL’s Gansevoort-Lansing family letters were made available in 2019. Bryant created an Excel file for registering correspondence metadata for the Augusta Papers, and Cheong is populating a similar file for the Melville letters published in NN Correspondence. These files will assist in further curation of correspondence data in OCHRE.