Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"Melville" on "Missions to the Western Indians" and "a celebrated infidel book"

Communications to the Boston Christian Watchman signed "MELVILLE" appeared as early as 1828 ("Profitable Pleasure," March 7, 1828, commending the Solar Microscope to families with children) and 1833 (promoting "Wayland's Discourses," July 26, 1833). The numbered "Western Indians" series is more substantial and elaborately argued than anything previously by "MELVILLE" in the Baptist newspaper published by William Nichols and at that time edited by Ebenezer Thresher, then William Crowell. From the Christian Watchman [Boston, Massachusetts], Friday, March 23, 1838; found in the online Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank.

Missions to the Western Indians.—No. 2.

It will readily be conceded by every person disposed to reason upon Christian principles, that the church is bound to prosecute, with resolute and unremitting energy, those measures which appear best adapted to spread the gospel through every country on the globe. But it would certainly seem that the claims of the Indian tribes upon the American church, for the light of divine truth, partake more of the nature of strict and imperative justice than any which can be preferred in behalf of another people. The nation is under a deep obligation to the race of red men for the soil of this country. Disguise it as we will, it was hard, on the part of the Indians, to be dispossessed of the territory in the manner they were; and that, too, by a people, whom they had received, on their first landing, as a handful of feeble and forlorn adventurers; and to whom they had manifested that spirit of kind hospitality which may exist as truly in a savage breast as in that of the most enlightened European.

There is something painful in the contemplation of this subject; even after all the mitigating circumstances connected with it has been explained and acknowledged. It has been gravely adduced in justification of Anglo-American rapacity, that the country being capable of affording sustenance to a far more dense population, might permit the expulsion of the former to make room for their civilized neighbors. If this argument proves any thing, it proves too much for ourselves. On the same principle, a deputation from the swarming hordes of China might land on the Atlantic coast and take possession of New England itself. A body of Irish emigrants direct from their over-peopled native island, where a family must contrive to subsist on the produce of half an acre, and pay an enormous rent besides, might prefer a similar and far more urgent claim to the country.

What has been done, however, cannot be undone. It would probably be impossible, and certainly inexpedient to reinstate the Indians in the country of their ancestors. No eligible course remains, therefore, but to hasten forward with promptness and alacrity to the discharge of the duties growing out of our present relations to the Aborigines without consuming time in unavailing regret for the past. The country is wide enough for both races. Let them maintain a friendly neighborhood, and dwell together as brethren. Our people are called to this duty, on their part, by every consideration which should influence a magnanimous and powerful nation, and, above all, by the spirit of that divine gospel which is tacitly recognized as the national faith.

The Christian church, too, owe it to themselves, to the missionaries whom they have dispatched to this field of labor, and to whom they have pledged their zealous and constant co-operation; to their peculiar relations and locality in respect to the Indians as a nation; and above all to their assured obligations of fidelity to the interests of the divine Saviour, in humble reliance on the efficacy of the Spirit to be dispensed from on high, to make a more general and vigorous effort to give the gospel to the Indian tribes, within the jurisdiction and neighborhood of the United States. Here is a great moral and religious enterprise, worthy of the most strenuous exertions and the most ardent prayers of Christian philanthropy. It is a work, too, which circumstances appear to have devolved exclusively upon American Christians. On the Eastern continent and on the Pacific Islands, England and Denmark may very properly divide with ourselves the field of missionary labor. It is not so in respect to the North American Indians; especially as it relates to the tribes inhabiting the territorial lands of the United States, or dwelling in the vicarage [vicinage] of our Western or Southern border.

The editorial correction to vicinage (meaning "vicinity") appeared in the Christian Watchman on March 30, 1838. Articles in the series on "Missions to the Western Indians" appeared over the signature "Melville" during 1837-8 in the Christian Watchman as follows:
On October 19, 1838 a missionary signing himself "J. G. P." wrote to correct "Melville's" benign view of Indian character, as presented in the first installment of "Missions to the Western Indians" on November 10, 1837. "Melville" had written that missionaries to the Indians
“shall find in the natives of our western wilds, a race possessing some of the noblest qualities which the fall of man has left to the world—hospitality, generosity, strong affection, and a delicate sense of honor. Let the missionary, then, endeavor to impart to these children of nature that blessed gospel, which shall refine and crown all these estimable qualities.”  --"Melville" in the Christian Watchman, November 10, 1837
"Melville" defended this view in a reply to J. G. P.,  published in the Christian Watchman November 23, 1838. Coincidentally, in his unsigned 1849 review of The Oregon Trail, Herman Melville would tangle with Francis Parkman over the same issue of Indian character. Also employing biblical references and evangelical rhetoric, Melville rebutted Parkman's negative stereotypes as follows:
It is too often the case, that civilized beings sojourning among savages soon come to regard them with disdain and contempt. But though in many cases this feeling is almost natural, it is not defensible; and it is wholly wrong. Why should we contemn them? Because we are better than they? Assuredly not; for herein we are rebuked by the story of the Publican and the Pharisee. Because, then, that in many things we are happier? But this should be ground for commiseration, not disdain. Xavier and Elliot despised not the savages; and had Newton or Milton dwelt among them they would not have done so. When we affect to contemn savages, we should remember that by so doing we asperse our own progenitors; for they were savages also. Who can swear, that among the naked British barbarians sent to Rome to be stared at more than 1500 years ago, the ancestor of Bacon might not have been found? Why, among the very Thugs of India, or the bloody Dyaks of Borneo, exists the germ of all that is intellectually elevated and grand. We are all of us—Anglo-Saxons, Dyaks, and Indians—sprung from one head, and made in one image. And if we regret this brotherhood now, we shall be forced to join hands hereafter. A misfortune is not a fault; and good luck is not meritorious. The savage is born a savage; and the civilized being but inherits his civilization, nothing more. Let us not disdain, then, but pity. And wherever we recognise the image of God, let us reverence it, though it hung from the gallows.  
--The Literary World, Volume 4 - March 31, 1849.
In September 1838 "Melville" wrote the Watchman from Union, Connecticut after attending a Sabbath-School convention in Pomfret on September 26, 1838. The letter from "Melville" closes with a reference to Israel Putnam and his legendary killing of the last wolf in Connecticut:
"God speed to our Connecticut brethren in their spirited enterprize; and from the town where Putnam killed the wolf, which was mentioned as the place of the proposed seminary, may an efficient influence go forth to tame down the fierce dispositions of men to the bland and amiable spirit of Christian virtue."
Poems by "Melville" in the Christian Watchman
Christian Watchman / March 2, 1838
This "celebrated infidel book" sounds kind of like the unnamed one that troubled young Nathan in Herman Melville's long poem of spiritual questing, Clarel--especially since "Melville" identifies his book with the "boastful creed of reason." Melville scholar William Schurr in The Mystery of Iniquity identifies Nathan's volume as most likely "Paine's Age of Reason, or possibly Ethan Allan's Reason the Only Oracle of Man." And how about that prayer of "Melville" to preserve illusory hopes in the face of doubt:
"O, let the sweet delusion last!"
 whew! there's nothing more Melvillean than that.
"When now—enlightened, undeceived—
What gain I, barrenly bereaved!"  --After the Pleasure Party
In the same vein, "Nor wake the peaceful dreamer thou" is basically what Vine instructs a monk in the first part of Clarel, telling him not to wake up the sleeping Nehemiah:
... Spare to molest
Let this poor dreamer take his rest.  --Clarel Part 1 - Canto 30
On the other hand, you wouldn't expect to find Herman Melville in late September 1838 at a Baptist Sunday-school convention in Pomfret, Connecticut. Eh? Let's see, where was the young scamp (just 19), anyway? Uh-oh:
"There is no evidence as to where he was from mid-September until early November."
--Hershel Parker, Herman Melville: A Biography - Volume 1 page 132
  • "THANKSGIVING HYMN." November 28, 1838. This is the last item signed "Melville" that I have been able to find so far in the Christian Watchman

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