Thursday, September 8, 2016

More on the 1846 Middlesex source for Robert Melvill's 1850 farm report; with more parallels in Melville than Jay Leyda knew

Found on Newspapers.com

According to Jay Leyda and scholarly consensus up to now, Herman Melville probably ghostwrote the 1850 farm report of the Berkshire Agricultural Society that was signed by his cousin Robert as Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and published October 9 and 10 in Pittsfield newspapers. The full 1850 report "On Agricultural Products" was also published in Transactions of the Agricultural Societies of Massachusetts over the signature of "ROBERT MELVILLE, Chairman." As shown in our last, however, Robert Melvill's 1850 report is adapted (that is, plagiarized) from the 1846 report "On Farms, &c." to the Society of Middlesex Husbandmen and Manufacturers, submitted after their annual Exhibition and Cattle Show at Concord.

Leyda in "White Elephant vs. White Whale" (Town and Country v.101 [August, 1947]: 68-9; 114-118) gave impressive parallels between the 1850 text and Melville's writings without knowing about the 1846 Middlesex source. Did Herman Melville write the 1846 farm report, too?

The longer, earlier composition features more verbal parallels to Melville's writings than Jay Leyda knew, or could have known about. Not that verbal parallels alone will ever finally establish authorship. Usually they don't, not without corroborative historical and biographical evidence. Leyda's 1947 attribution was admittedly conjectural, even backed by tangible evidence of Herman Melville's participation with his cousin Robert in July 1850 on a tour of Berkshire farms. (Melville's Marginalia Online has the volume of Field's History of Berkshire County with Herman's notes in the front about the trip with cousin Robert.) Still, Melville scholars have regarded Leyda's case as a pretty good one, strong enough to warrant inclusion of the 1850 "Report" among "Attributed Pieces" in the Northwestern-Newberry edition of Melville's Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces. To aid further study of authorship and other questions, I want to provide some more verbal parallels to Melville's known writings in deleted portions of Robert Melvill's main source, the 1846 farm report of the Middlesex Agricultural Society.

Robert Melvill's 1850 version omits most of the political language in the original 1846 report, in particular the language of class conflict, and metaphors that describe agricultural improvements as the result of radical democracy. One whole paragraph on the "levelling principle" was deleted in revision. This bit, for example, appears only in the 1846 version:
"the Committee must frankly pronounce their approbation of the prevalent democratic propensity, to produce a horizontal surface, by removing sandhills to elevate the adjoining bogs and marshes."
The "levelling" theme recurs in Melville. In White-Jacket Chapter 40 Melville similarly equated social levelling with natural levelling:
"how raise the valleys, without filling them up with the superfluous tops of hills?" 
Likewise Melville's Pierre juxtaposes democratic principles with natural ones. In America "the democratic element operates as a subtle acid," corrosively, and yet democratic institutions "seem to possess the divine virtue of a natural law" (Pierre; Or, The Ambiguities). And Pierre himself embodies the division between aristocratic and democratic politics:
"And if this seem but too fond and foolish in Pierre; and if you tell me that this sort of thing in him showed him no sterling Democrat, and that a truly noble man should never brag of any arm but his own; then I beg you to consider again that this Pierre was but a youngster as yet. And believe me you will pronounce Pierre a thoroughgoing Democrat in time; perhaps a little too Radical altogether to your fancy."  --Pierre; Or, The Ambiguities
In a humorous vein the Middlesex Society affirms "vested rights" as a principle of essential political liberty, using the term that Melville would employ in Mardi to describe a sailor's free will--which in a calm turns out to be only theoretical:
Even his undoubted vested rights, comprised in his glorious liberty of volition, become as naught.  --Mardi: And a Voyage Thither
For the Middlesex Society, the ideal of "vested rights" similarly gets overturned by practical considerations. Embracing the policy of removing invasive plants, the writer puns on our understanding of the word radical to mean getting at the root of something:
they witnessed, with unmingled delight, certain demonstrations of radicalism, in the uprooting of thorns and brambles, and an apparent determination to eradicate the dogwood and ivy, and all their relations.
Here are a dozen more verbal parallels to known writings by Herman Melville in the 1846 report of the Middlesex Agricultural Society, signed by Chairman (and Boston Courier editor) Joseph Tinker Buckingham. Half of them occur in Typee or Omoo.
1. SPACIOUS
1846: neat and spacious dwellings
1850: new and commodious dwellings

--Omoo Chapter 8: "spacious houses"
--Omoo, Chapter 81: "an edifice, by far the most spacious"

2. THRIFTY
1846: plantations of thrifty trees, luxuriantly laden with fruit
1850: plantations of thriving trees

--Omoo Chapter 52: "a thrifty growth of the sugar-cane, just ripening"; Typee Chapter 13 has "all manner of luxuriant fruits"

3. UNDISPUTED POSSESSION
1846: for aught we know to the contrary, had held undisputed possession thereof
1850: for ought that we know to the contrary, had a life estate thereof
"Such were our accommodations aboard of the Julia; but bad as they were, we had not the undisputed possession of them. Myriads of cockroaches, and regiments of rats disputed the place with us."  --Omoo, Chapter 10 - A Sea-Parlor Described, With Some of its Tenants:
4. INTERVAL OF SILENCE
"An interval of silence was at last broken by Babbalanja." --Mardi: and a Voyage Thither
"It was noon, when an interval of silence falls upon the docks." --Redburn Chapter 37

 5. WERE WONT TO
"they were wont to present themselves before the heir to the isle"  --Mardi: And a Voyage Thither
"those old astronomers were wont to mount to the apex"  --Moby Dick, The Mast-Head

6. RATHER INCLINE TO THE BELIEF
 "rather incline to the opinion" --Moby-Dick, The Cabin Table

7. UNSPEAKABLE DELIGHT
"to my unspeakable delight I perceived that some difference of opinion had arisen between them...." --Typee Chapter 33 - The Escape

8. FASTIDIOUSNESS
 "a degree of fastidiousness that seemed to me ill-timed"
--Typee Chapter 7

  9. BOREAS
"Cease, rude Boreas, blustering railer!"  --White-Jacket, Chapter 3 alluding to the famous song  "The Storm" by George Alexander Stevens.

10. AY
One piece of wall, thirty or forty rods in length, presents an upper surface of flat stones, on which the committee walked with as much ease and rapidity as they could on the surface of the ground,—ay, and with much greater facility than one can travel across some of the fields in our county, which the owners appear to think easy of cultivation. It afforded really a pleasant promenade.
"These islanders were heathens! savages! ay, cannibals!"  --Typee - The social Condition and general Character of the Typees

"fine dwelling-houses, several hotels, and barber-shops, ay, even billiard-rooms;"  --Omoo Chapter 49
11. THESE DEGENERATE DAYS
"but we are loth to believe that, in these degenerate days, any grievous malediction would follow the practice of eating abundantly of the fruit of our vineyards, gardens and orchards." --1846 report of the Middlesex Agricultural Society

"And as the great wrought nails, binding the clapboards, are unknown in these degenerate days, so are the huge bricks in the chimney walls."  --I and My Chimney
 12. PROMENADE
As garrulous guide to the party, Braid-Beard soon brought us nigh the great Morai of Maramma, the burial-place of the Pontifis, and a rural promenade, for certain idols there inhabiting.  --Mardi: And a Voyage Thither
For the context of walls, a better example of "promenade" occurs in Melville's 1849 Journal, where Melville describes his tour of Canterbury in the entry dated November 6th 1849:
"The old wall forms a fine promenade."  --Journals of Herman Melville
Seven years later, Nathaniel Hawthorne recorded the same observation of Chester's city walls:
 "as interesting a promenade as can be found in England." --Hawthorne, quoted in the Northwestern-Newberry edition of Melville's Journals
Coincidentally, he wrote that after walking "round the wall" with his friend Herman Melville.
One more will make it a baker's dozen...
13. HASTY PUDDING (the dish and the poem by Joel Barlow)
One of our New-England poets has said, that "all his bones were made of Indian corn;" and we cannot doubt that it enters largely into the composition of our Yankee blood and muscle, and that its invigorating energies give strength and health to the sons, and beauty and loveliness to the wives and daughters of New England husbandmen. We compassionate the depravity of taste that cannot relish a jonny-cake, and despise the fastidiousness of appetite that cannot make a supper on hasty-pudding.
The staple food of the Irish emigrants was oatmeal and water, boiled into what is sometimes called mush; by the Dutch is known as supaan; by sailors burgoo; by the New Englanders hasty-pudding; in which hasty-pudding, by the way, the poet Barlow found the materials for a sort of epic. --Redburn Chapter 52, The Emigrants' Kitchen
Let's see. Where was Melville around that time? What was he doing in early October 1846?  The BIG news in Herman Melville's life was his engagement to Lizzie Shaw in Lansingburgh on the last day of August, 1846. After which, Lizzie evidently stayed in Lansingburgh for two months, until Sam Savage came from Boston at the end of October to get her. Then it was back to work, finishing up Omoo in New York City and looking for a job in the Custom House. Read all about it in the first volume of Herman Melville: A Biography. I don't suppose our lovebirds flew away to Concord, Massachusetts for the annual Cattle Show? Did they? Did Herman Melville around this time (in between Typee and Omoo) ever socialize with Boston Courier editor Joseph Tinker Buckingham? Let's keep a lookout, just in case...

Related melvilliana post:
As mentioned at the start, the 1850 report "On Agricultural Products" was also published in Transactions of the Agricultural Societies of Massachusetts over the signature of "ROBERT MELVILLE, Chairman." In case you missed it in the mess that followed, here's a link to that volume at Google Books:

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