Saturday, September 24, 2016

Literary allusions by Gansevoort Melville, to Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott

via Hollywood Spy
In his great speech at the 1844 Jackson-fest, Gansevoort Melville compared the premature celebration of Henry Clay's victory by overconfident Whigs to eating rotten apples, counting unhatched chickens, and trying to enjoy a non-existent dinner:
"This celebration of theirs is pretty much the same thing as if some poor, hungry, starving loafer should cuddle up in a warm corner, close his eyes, shut his mouth, and eat a glorious good dinner—in imagination"
Gansevoort's ridiculous image of the homeless wretch and his fantasy-banquet alludes to a pretty well-known passage from Shakespeare's Richard II, where the banished Henry Bolingbroke contrasts the experience of real physical pain to imaginary kinds of relief which only intensify one's suffering:
O, who can hold a fire in his hand
By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?
Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite
By bare imagination of a feast?

Or wallow naked in December snow
By thinking on fantastic summer's heat?
O, no! the apprehension of the good
Gives but the greater feeling to the worse:
Fell sorrow's tooth doth never rankle more
Than when he bites, but lanceth not the sore.  --Richard II - Act 1 Scene 3
Gansevoort's "hungry, starving loafer" comically personifies Shakespeare's "hungry edge of appetite"; and the "glorious good dinner" is Shakespeare's unreal "feast," both enjoyed only in "imagination."

While Herman Melville was sailing home, his older brother was perfecting and publishing a highly allusive brand of political speech-making. Gansevoort's speech at the Nashville rally on August 15, 1844, as excerpted in the Nashville Union, was criticized in the rival Nashville Tennessean Republican Banner (September 11, 1844) for comprising "a parcel of borrowed historical illustration." In particular the Republican Banner noted Gansevoort's plagiarism of Sir Walter Scott:
His object evidently was to show off his fine speaking. He glorified Van Buren (who was defeated at Baltimore after innumerable trials) as equal in heroism to James Earl of Douglas at the Battle of Otterbourne! His narration over which locofoco editors have gloated with so much admiration, is all taken with a very slight (and most injurious) alteration and with no acknowledgment, from Scott's preface to the fine old ballad of "the Battle of Otterbourne" in the "Scottish Minstrelsy." But he was most unfortunate in his allusion to this matter. In our edition of "The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," we find that the Douglas to whom he compared MR. VAN BUREN when he introduced the story,—and who raised the cry "A Dead Douglas shall win the field!"—was KILLED BY ONE OF HIS OWN MEN!
"There are that say he (Douglas) was not slain by the enemy, but by one of his own men, a GROOM OF HIS CHAMBER."
So states the historian Godscroft.
We should think there was something in this, that would have prevented our New York orator from dwelling on it with any particular complacency. We have not time to run the parallel out but was not Martin Van Buren killed by his own men? Was not "a groom of his chamber," one of his understrappers, the author of his political death? --Nashville Tennessean, September 11, 1844
Here the criticism specifically refers to the frequently reprinted Dying Douglass portion of Gansevoort Melville's Nashville speech. As alleged, Gansevoort had indeed paraphrased Godscroft via Scott in The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.

(As explained at the Walter Scott Educational Website, the 1802 version is the one in which "Earl Douglas is murdered by a resentful servant." Gansevoort was recalling the battlefield death described in the 1803 and later editions of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.) Gansevoort was also quoting verbatim from Scott's narrative of "The Battle of Otterburn" in the first volume of Tales of a Grandfather.  Only the Tales of a Grandfather version has the exact words Gansevoort reportedly spoke about the "tradition in our family that a dead Douglas" should/shall "win a field."

On a somewhat more positive note, the Nashville Republican Banner did grudgingly acknowledge that in subsequent visits to Nashville Gansevoort had developed a better style of delivery:
"he has decidedly improved in his rhetorical displays, under the criticism of the Press, since he made his first appearance at the Democratic Convention Ground. It is true he still can only skim the surface of questions, but his manner and manners are greatly amended: He has abated much of his preposterous gesticulation and mincing lady's maid tones..."
--Nashville Republican Banner, mis-labeled "The Tennessean" at
Edited then by Donald Macleod.
Found on

No comments:

Post a Comment