Monday, February 20, 2017

Fragments from a Writing Desk: The approaching conclusion of a long project, THE ...

Fragments from a Writing Desk: The approaching conclusion of a long project, THE ...: Alma MacDougall has bundled up all the final volume of the Northwestern-Newberry THE WRITINGS OF HERMAN MELVILLE and shipped it off to Nor...

Melville in Joseph Gostwick's 1856 Handbook of American Literature

The reader who is wearied by sentimental fiction, may find relief in turning to the tales of adventure by Dr Mayo, Lieutenant Wise, and Hermann Melville. To write a grave critique on these books, would be ridiculous; and to make any protest against the extravagances of the writer last named, would be useless; for it would never be read by those who find delight in the pages of Mardi, Kaloolah, and similar tales. It must not be supposed that we deny the peculiar merits of these romances: we intend only to shew the impossibility of giving any critical account of them. They must be received as reports of the fluent, careless, and often brilliant talk of imaginative travellers, or dreamers of travel, who have written without any care for rules of art, or fear of critics. The passion for reading of the class to which we refer, is a curious feature in recent years. It prevails in England and Germany as in America. As practical life becomes tame and monotonous, the youthful imagination goes back to barbarism and the wildness of nature, to find excitement. Tales of adventure by land and sea, in the forests, or on the prairies of the far west, or highly coloured pictures of sensuous and luxurious life in the islands of the South Seas—these supply the intellectual refreshment of numerous young readers, and lure away their minds from the study of realities. The wildness of Melville's stories—Typee, Omoo, Mardi, and others—seems to be infectious; for in a review of Mardi, we find a critic writing in the following style:—'Reading this wild book, we can imagine ourselves mounted upon some Tartar steed, golden caparisons clank around our person, ostrich plumes of driven whiteness hang over our brow, and cloud our vision with dancing snow. . . . . Away, away, along the sandy plain!' &c. This is perhaps our most concise mode of indicating the rhapsodical style of the book itself. Typee, the first of Melville's books, tells the story of two sailors who escaped from their ship, and landed on an island of the Pacific, where they were received by the Typee natives, with whom they lived luxuriously, feasting on sucking-pigs and breadfruit, and enjoying all the licence of a primitive state of society. Mardi intermingles with its voluptuous scenery a dreamy philosophy of which we can give no clear account. --Joseph Gostwick, Handbook of American Literature
Joseph Gostwick (1814-1887) compiled well-received surveys of  German Literature, and also wrote influentially on The spirit of German poetry and English Poets.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Israel Potter in Akron, Ohio

From the Summit County Beacon [Akron, Ohio], April 4, 1855:
Israel Potter; His Fifty years of Exile, By Herman Melville. For sale by BERBE, ELKINS & CO.
The readers of Putnam's Magazine, will hear with pleasure that this deeply interesting narrative is at length complated, and given to the country in book from. Long before we guessed at the authorship, we found ourselves absorbed in the narrative; and now that the author stands revealed, we are no longer surprised at the beauty of the sketch. Melville has never written anything more readable than "Israel Potter;" and the country owes him a debt of gratitude for depicting so faithfully the chequered history of the Exiled hero.

Melville at Brentano's on Christmas Eve, 1891--with Clement C. Moore and others

via The New York Public Library Digital Collections
Even if they never met in real life, Herman Melville did get to hear Clement C. Moore recite "A Visit from St. Nicholas" on Christmas Eve, 1891--in the imagination of their living mutual acquaintance, A. Oakey Hall. In A Christmas Eve at Brentano's, published in the January 1892 issue of Book Chat, Hall describes a dream vision populated by the ghosts of famous authors. Hall's departed literati are attending a holiday party conducted by another ghost, that of famed bookseller August Brentano
"... every Christmas Eve I hold a symposium of dead and gone authors and authoresses and a merry making here from the mysterious recesses where dwell what you mortals call 'the Majority.'"
Nathaniel Parker Willis meets up with Disraeli and Bulwer. Thomas Hood and Edgar Allan Poe compare new editions. Likewise Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Felicia Hemans are found "examining choicely bound volumes of their poems." Shakespeare and Bacon laugh "heartily" together over The Great Cryptogram by Ignatius Donnelly. The late Herman Melville (who had died September 28, 1891) joins British authors Owen Meredith and Lawrence Oliphant, "all recent recruits to 'the Majority'" and now "pleasantly occupied" at the festive gathering. August Brentano personally requests the recital by Clement C. Moore, who gets introduced by Santa Claus himself:
But before I had time to stow further guests of the banqueting literate in my perplexed memory there was a bustle at the head of the table, and for the first time on this occasion of the fairy like feast I heard a voice—that of Santa Claus—saying: "by request of our great book-selling Host, Clement C. Moore will now recite his celebrated ode beginning—'Twas the night before Christmas when,' etc."

This the old Knickerbocker bard gave ore rotundo with spirited emphasis from his seat next to General Geo. P. Morris: while Santa Claus, with eloquent eyebrows, picturesque shaking beard, and suggestive gestures gave strange effect to the timely lines. 
--A. Oakey Hall, "A Christmas Eve at Brentano's" in Book Chat, Volume 7.

Earlier in 1891, A. Oakey Hall had separately mentioned both Moore and Melville (living yet) in published reminiscences of Poe and "Literati of New York Forty Years Ago." In the retrospective that appeared in the New York Weekly Press on February 25, 1891 under the main heading "Poe as Man and Poet," Hall's inventory of writers whom he had met before the Civil War included
"Clement C. Moore, whose song of Santa Claus has cheered four generations of Christmas children"
Herman Melville, whom Stevenson has seemed to take as his model; the Duyckinck brothers, the daintiest critics of their day; Cornelius Mathews, the American Dickens, whom Lowell so excoriated in his "Fable for the Critics"… 
--New York Weekly Press, February 25, 1891

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Evert A. Duyckinck on Clement C. Moore: "one of the best of men"

In the posthumously published article for Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly (June 1884) titled "Life in New York City in its Later Colonial Days," Herman Melville's friend Evert Duyckinck remembered Clement C. Moore as "one of the best of men" and extensively quoted Moore's "exquisite rhymes" on St. Nicholas:
Besides, has not Weir painted the scene? and has it not been described by one of the best of men in most exquisite rhymes? --Evert A. Duyckinck
There were several national or religious festivals kept by the Dutch in New Amsterdam: Christmas, New Year's Day, Paas or Easter, Pinxter at Whitsuntide, and Santa Claus or St. Nicholas Day. Some of the peculiar Dutch honors of the last have been transferred to Christmas; particularly the visit of St. Nicholas, who, to the wondering children of Manhattan, on the eve of the sacred day, still, as of yore, a burly, benevolent figure, clad in his ancient furry habiliments, a pipe in his month, a capacious, well-filled hamper of toys on his back, rides in his airy sleigh, swiftly borne by his reindeer-team, over the roofs of the houses, descending, spite of narrow flues and modern contracted chimneys, to fill the stockings suspended, in expectation of his gifts, at the mantel-corner. The faith in the old legend of St. Nicholas, patron of the Manhattoes, would, with other superstitions of the past, doubtless have died out long ago were it not invigorated by these perennial gifts and bounties. There is practically no discrediting a belief which is backed by such unfailing beneficence. We, "children of a larger growth," hoodwink our perceptions and act upon it every day in our intercourse with society and estimate of character, feigning to believe in more doubtful virtues than those of the boy-saint. Besides, has not Weir painted the scene? and has it not been described by one of the best of men in most exquisite rhymes?—
"The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of midday to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
* * * *
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
Tho prancing and pawing of each little hoof—
As I drew In my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound,
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow:
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath,
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlfull of jelly." *
 This, is the children's saint of the Manhattoes, fixed in his great lineaments for all time.
* Poems by Clement C. Moore, LL. D: 1844, pp. 125-6
 --Evert A. Duyckinck; also incorporated in "The Origin of the New York Churches," Frank Leslie's Sunday Magazine (March 1886).
In their 1855 Cyclopædia of American Literature, co-editors Evert A. Duyckinck and his brother George L. Duyckinck had accorded Moore a similarly generous treatment, likewise informed by some personal knowledge of the man being described:
Professor Moore has lightened his learned labors in the seminary by the composition of numerous poems from time to time, chiefly expressions of home thoughts and affections, with a turn for humor as well as sentiment, the reflections of a genial, amiable nature. They were collected by the author in a volume in 1844, which be dedicated to his children. Though occasional compositions they are polished in style....
--Cyclopædia of American Literature
Even more expansively, the updated National Cyclopedia of American Biography praises the same admirable traits of character in Clement C. Moore:
He was a man of rare beauty and simplicity of character, kindly disposed and generous to a fault. Upon his death, the faculty of the seminary he had so faithfully served passed resolutions declaring, "We recognize in him one whom God has blessed with selected gifts; warmhearted in friendship, genial in society, kindly and considerate to all; possessed of fine literary tastes, poetic instincts and expressiveness, and of cheerful humor withal; at the same time well accomplished in severer studies and resolute for more laborious undertakings, as his learned works in Hebrew grammar and lexicography distinctly testify."
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