Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Alice C. Hyde on reading Moby-Dick aloud in 1921

"So every night four of us sat around a roaring, open fire in the raw, spring evenings and listened to “Moby Dick.” I did the reading aloud, and I know the sweep of the sentences, and the lift and thrill of their cadences. Never was such a book written before, so drenched with the sea." --Alice C. Hyde, North Cohasset; from her published letter to "As the World Wags" editor Philip Hale in the Boston Herald, July 5, 1921.
Boston Herald, July 5, 1921

The complete letter from Alice Charles Hyde (1872-1936), a graduate of Smith College, is transcribed below. Having looked into the renewed enthusiasm for Moby-Dick in England, Philip Hale introduces correspondence from Melville's American fans, thus:
Now for letters from Melvillians.

A SANE ENTHUSIAST

As the World Wags:

One cannot throw a match into dry tinder without starting a fire, perhaps a conflagration, so after reading the article in your column about “Moby Dick,” I must add to the conflagration and chorus with the others that it is the most remarkable, blood-stirring, romantic, and virile book of adventure that the English language contains. During last month’s cold weather, we—a household of three middle-aged people with a fourth over 70—found ourselves in a country house with everything to make life tolerable except human companionship. No neighbor had “moved” with us. So every night four of us sat around a roaring, open fire in the raw, spring evenings and listened to “Moby Dick.” I did the reading aloud, and I know the sweep of the sentences, and the lift and thrill of their cadences. Never was such a book written before, so drenched with the sea.

Now I know the difference between genius and talent and no academic admirer of style and finished English will ever confuse my mind on that subject again. Stevenson, the great stylist, wrote a toy book, about a toy ocean, with toy men playing around on toy ships, and called it “Treasure Island.” That’s talent. Then Melville wrote a book almost as great as the ocean itself with real men, sailing real oceans, and hunting real Leviathans, and facing awful perils; with the whole shot through with the smell and pull and mystery of the sea, and with more genius on one page of it than on all the pages of all the works of other sea writers put together. (Like your other correspondent, I insist that I am sane-minded.)

Last week I was in Martha’s Vineyard in the house of an old island family where we had the privilege of staying. On the mantel of the main room was a piece of bone about six inches long with a picture on it, rubbed in, in India ink, of a whale boat and three ships’ crews sailing up to those terrible jaws. Not a spark of interest could I get from any other member of the party about it; they saw nothing there to interest one. To me it was the biggest thing on Martha’s Vineyard, for I had read “Moby Dick.”

Couldn’t you get up a Moby Dick club so that a little of the inflammable enthusiasm which those of us who have read the book feel about it could have a safe outlet?

Still sanely-minded yours,

ALICE C. HYDE.
North Cohasset.

Melville is too fine a fellow for a club in his honor. Remember the cruel fate of Walt Whitman and Robert Browning. A letter from Mr. Earle E. Riser must wait its turn. —Ed. [Philip Hale]
First ever Moby-Dick Marathon? Held the previous month (June 1921) "in a country house," presumably the Jerusalem Road estate where the Hydes of 380 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston summered. The two other "middle-aged people" in her group were probably her sister Louvan W. Hyde and brother Benjamin D. Hyde, a Boston lawyer. The unnamed person "over 70" most likely would have been their mother: Mrs. Luvan Charles Hyde, who died the following year at the age of 80.
"Benjamin, Louvan, and Alice Hyde continued to live at 380 Commonwealth during the 1922-1923 winter season, after which they moved to The Charlesgate at 535 Beacon." --Back Bay Houses
Alice C. Hyde wrote and performed one-act plays ("Gladstone's Letter," "Cromwell's Letter") for the Cohasset Dramatic Club and is credited with providing much of the chapter on Cohasset in Agnes Rothery's The Old Coast Road.

Boston Herald - February 16, 1936

3 comments:

  1. So did Alice pick up MD on her own, or was there someone important teaching it at Smith circa 1895?

    RJO

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    Replies
    1. Great question. Smith College has the manuscript of Mary Augusta Jordan's "The Teaching of English in Smith College from President and Professor Seelye to President and Professor Neilson." Philip Hale grew up in Northampton, played organ for the Unitarian church there--what was his connection to Smith?

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    2. Smith appears to have at least one rare book donated by Hale (or perhaps just formerly owned by him -- the language is ambiguous):

      http://www.smith.edu/libraries/sites/default/files/spring2006.pdf

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