Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Robert Melvill's 1850 "Report of the Committee on Agriculture," plagiarized from the Middlesex County Agricultural Society Report for 1846

1846! I got confused for a while about the year of the plagiarized report. 1846 is right, after all. The Society of Middlesex Husbandmen and Manufacturers held their annual Exhibition and Cattle Show at Concord, Massachusetts on Wednesday, October 7, 1846. The day was very fine according to newspaper reports, unlike the drenching rain on Exhibition and Cattle Show day the year before, October 1, 1845. The published farm report for 1846, signed by then Chairman Joseph T. Buckingham (founder and editor of the Boston Courier), looks back to and in some measure burlesques the relatively straightforward report of 1845, credited to Secretary Moses Prichard.

Signed by Herman Melville's cousin Robert Melvill, the 1850 "Report of the Committee on Agriculture" appears with other "Attributed Pieces" in the Northwestern-Newberry edition of Meville's Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860 (pages 449-451). The N-N copy text is the printing in the Pittsfield Culturist and Gazette (October 9, 1850). Below is the version printed in the Pittsfield Sun on Thursday, October 10, 1850; found in the online Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank.
Jay Leyda attributed the 1850 "Report" to Herman Melville in "White Elephant vs. White Whale," published in Town and Country Vol. 101 (August 1947): 8-9, 114-118. Herman Melville really did make an agricultural tour of Berkshire in 1850, as we know from surviving notations in his copy of David Dudley Field's History of the County of Berkshire. Amazing but true: you can read Melville's penciled notes in the Field volume at Melville's Marginalia Online.

The tone of Robert Melvill's 1850 "Report" sounds something like Herman Melville in a satirical vein. So does the borderline-irreverent biblical language, and so do the biblical allusions to Adam and Eve and to Noah and the Ark. Thus, Leyda makes a good case on circumstantial and internal evidence for Melville's help with the composition of Robert Melvill's agricultural report.
"Herman could not resist the opportunity to write an agricultural report to end all agricultural reports."  --Jay Leyda
Problem is, most of Robert Melvill's 1850 "Report" on crops in Berkshire is borrowed or adapted from the agricultural report of another Massachusetts county in another year: Middlesex County, 1846. Plagiarized, to be honest. The entire 1850 Berkshire "Report" closely follows (word-for-word in many places) the similarly formatted account of the 1846 Annual Exhibition and Cattle Show at Concord, as reported to the Society of Middlesex Husbandmen and Manufacturers and accessible online via Google Books in Transactions of the Agricultural Societies of Massachusetts (Boston, 1846).

Without question, the 1850 writer or writers plagiarized heavily from the 1846 committee report "On Farms, &c." to the Society of Middlesex Husbandmen and Manufacturers. Again, the annual Fair, Exhibition, Ploughing Match, and Cattle Show took place at Concord on October 7, 1846. As printed in the 1846 Transactions volume, the formal Middlesex account is signed by Joseph T. Buckingham as Chairman of the Middlesex Society. Presumably then, Buckingham or Abiel Heywood (then Secretary of the Society) or some other member of the Middlesex Society wrote the 1846 farm report. A correspondent ("R.") of the Lowell Courier wrote that "The farm report, by Mr. Buckingham, is quite long, and of course good. I did not happen to hear it" (Boston Daily Atlas, October 12, 1846; also reprinted in the Cambridge Chronicle, October 15, 1846).

On the other hand... In light of Herman's summer expedition with Robert Melvill in 1850, and the related marginalia in Herman's copy of Field's History of Berkshire, Melville scholars will want to examine the 1846 source. More work should be done I think to see if authorship of Robert Melvill's 1846 source can be established definitely. At several points the Middlesex Report "On Farms, &c." signed by Joseph T. Buckingham can be shown to satirize another published report credited to Moses Prichard. The comparatively serious and sober 1845 report on the Middlesex Cattle Show by Moses Prichard appears in the 1846 Abstract from the Returns of Agricultural Societies in Massachusetts on pages 37-45.

What would Jay Leyda say? Some of the 1846 bits that Robert Melvill and Co. left out of their 1850 "Report" sound even more like Herman Melville than parts that Leyda identified as elements of Herman's "satirical triumph." Goths and Vandals; "degenerate days"; Joel Barlow and Hasty Pudding. Even Indians!

In revision, Melvill or his collaborator removed the original figure of Indians as troublesome native creatures ("aboriginal tribes reptiles and insects"), deleting the words aboriginal and extirpate (a form of which Melville had used in Typee).

they flatter themselves that they have as natural an aversion to war as the most enthusiastic members of the Peace Society, yet they cannot refrain from expressing their approbation of the industry and skill which had enabled the proprietors of these swamps to extirpate the aboriginal tribes of reptiles and insects, which, for aught we know to the contrary, had held undisputed possession thereof, from the day when Noah, with his family of creeping and flying things, emerged from the Ark.
and they profess to have as great an aversion to strife as the most enthusiastic members of the Peace Society; yet they cannot withhold their approbation of the determination manifested by the proprietors of these swamps, to exterminate the tribes of insects and reptiles, which, for ought that we know to the contrary, had a life estate thereof from generation to generation, since the day when Noah, with his numerous family, emerged from the Ark.
Also deleted in revision: the phrase "undisputed possession" which Melville had used in Omoo, Chapter 10 - A Sea-Parlor Described, With Some of its Tenants:
"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." 
Transcribed below from the 1846 volume Abstract from the Returns of Agricultural Societies in Massachusetts - pages 45-51:


In the return of the doings of the Society of Middlesex Husbandmen and Manufacturers, its Secretary, Abiel Heywood, of Concord, states, "That the Society on the 7th of October last, held its Annual Exhibition and Cattle Show at Concord. The large crowd of farmers present from all parts of the county, and the number, variety and beauty of the articles and products brought for exhibition and premium, showed the deep interest felt in the Society and its objects. There were more than twenty entries for the ploughing match, and it was well contested, though the previous drought had baked the earth so hard that the furrows were turned with great difficulty. The other departments of the exhibition were unusually full, and evidenced a high state of skill, industry and productiveness in the county, especially in that of fruits.

One of the most interesting features of the exhibition, was that of the stock imported by the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture. They attracted much attention, and showed the wisdom of that Society in their purchase, as, from the interest manifested in them, there can be no doubt of their being employed, to a large extent, in improving the breed of cattle throughout the county.

The Address was delivered by the Hon. John G. Palfrey.

On Farms, &c.

In prosecuting their examination of Farms, the Committee observed, with high satisfaction, the manifestations of the spirit of improvement, in every town to which they were called. Their attention was frequently attracted, as they passed from place to place, by many neat and spacious dwellings,—by new and well-filled barns,—by plantations of thrifty trees, luxuriantly laden with fruit,—by extensive fields of corn,—and by numerous reclaimed meadows. The contrast between the present appearance of these meadows and that which they exhibited a few years ago, must strike with admiration every beholder who has an eye susceptible of the attractions of beauty, and a mind capable of estimating the worth of useful improvement.
Some of the meadows which were entered for a premium have been, within the knowledge of some of the members of the committee, mere swamps and quagmires, in which frogs, serpents, and turtles, had held a life estate from generation to generation. The only vegetable productions were alders and ferns, interspersed with bogs, and decorated here and there with a few cat-tails, on which a bob-o-link might be tempted to alight to enjoy a moment's interval of silence. From these same swamps, also, were wont to issue hordes of gnats and mosquitoes, like the Goths and Vandals of a former age, to war upon civilized humanity. Those once unsightly swamps are now covered with grass, and afford exuberant crops of hay, for the support of domestic animals. Although the Committee would be sorry to give occasion for a suspicion that they are deficient in the milk of human kindness, and they flatter themselves that they have as natural an aversion to war as the most enthusiastic members of the Peace Society, yet they cannot refrain from expressing their approbation of the industry and skill which had enabled the proprietors of these swamps to extirpate the aboriginal tribes of reptiles and insects, which, for aught we know to the contrary, had held undisputed possession thereof, from the day when Noah, with his family of creeping and flying things, emerged from the Ark. The Committee profess to be strict conservatives in principle, and have great regard for "vested rights;" yet 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.
The Committee perceived, also, that the levelling principle pervaded the whole community of husbandmen, to an extent that is quite alarming to those who think it wrong to disturb the naturally undulating scenery of barren, gravelly knolls, and ponds of stagnant water, and who like the green mantle of the standing pool better than a meadow covered with a carpet of herd's grass and clover. We are not partial to a horizontal tariff; but, however unpleasantly the declaration may strike the minds of some of our aristocratic friends, 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. It was pleasant, moreover, to see a reclaimed meadow of fifteen acres, marked out in squares almost as numerous as those on a chequer-board, by ditches, the mud from which had been converted to manure, and, being spread on dry and barren protuberances, had transformed them to cornfields and orchards.

The Committee witnessed, with unspeakable delight, the evidences of a growing taste for the cultivation of the various kinds of fruits adapted to the soil and climate, and the success which has followed the efforts to improve the qualities, and increase the quantity, of that sort of food which nourished our great progenitors in the garden of Eden. It is said, indeed, that the eating of an apple by that virtuous pair—our chaste grandparents—in Paradise, brought upon them the awful denunciation of an offended Deity, and entailed on all their posterity the curse, to eat bread in the sweat of their brow!—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. The committee rather incline to the belief, that a more free and constant use of the fruits adapted to our soil would be conducive to health, and, as far as physical nutriment can contribute to the improvement of the intellectual powers of man, that a diet of fruits is favorable to the refinement of taste, the improvement of the mind, the progress of moral culture, and the general melioration of the human character. While the committee have seen with pleasure the increasing disposition, among their brethren of the agricultural community, to cultivate the apple, the pear, the peach, and the plum, they regret that they have seen but few and feeble attempts to embellish the roads with forest trees. A few hours at the proper season, devoted to this object, would improve the scenery adjacent to a farmer's residence. Some one has said, that every one who plants a clump of trees adds a beauty-spot to the face of Nature. We hope that our successors, at no distant day, may have the privilege of recording the names of many, who will have shown their grateful affection, by adding these embellishments to the already beautiful countenance of our common parent.

In their progress through the county, the attention of the committee was frequently attracted by noble fields of Indian corn. We know of nothing which can render a farm more worthy of the society's premium, than a plentiful crop of this valuable grain. In the husbandman's provision for himself, his family, and his cattle, it is an indispensable article. 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 spirit of improvement is signally displayed in many parts of the county, in the construction of stone walls. This is a branch of industry which is worthy of high commendation. The work of building a good wall is a laborious employment, and requires something more than an ordinary degree of physical power. But it is labor well expended. A farmer who gets his premises enclosed with a substantial fence of this description may defy his neighbor's cattle, however unruly; and if his division fences are of a like construction, his own animals will learn to be content in their appropriate enclosures, or at least will prefer feeding in the pasture where he places them, to the hazard of breaking their legs by leaping into his mowing lots and cornfields. The committee would hardly be justified if they neglected to notice, particularly, the walls on the farms of Messrs. A. Carleton and E. P. Spaulding, of Chelmsford, O. C. Rogers, of Woburn, and Stephen Howe, of Marlboro'. Portions of the walls on some of these farms were five feet in height, five feet broad at the foundation, and from three to four feet at the top. The improvement already made, and still in progress by Mr. Howe, excited the Committee's admiration. It is composed, in a great measure, of large masses of rock, removed from their native beds by immense labor, and not without the aid of gunpowder. 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. But its beauty is perhaps the quality for which it should be least admired. Its strength, usefulness and durability, are its valuable characteristics. Such a wall may laugh in the face of Old Boreas, defy the attempts of frost to heave its foundation, and stand the tolerable shaking of a New-England earthquake without tottering.
There is one other feature in the system of improvement, to which the committee refer with pleasure and approbation, viz., the construction of barns, with cellars for the making of manure. A descriptive detail of all that the committee observed during the week occupied in their examination would consume more time than they have at their disposal; but they cannot omit the opportunity now presented to impress upon the minds of all their brethren the importance of saving all the ingredients that enter into the composition of that substance which renovates exhausted soil, and restores to the earth the nutritious particles which have been extracted from it by successive crops, —enabling Nature to reinvest herself in her emerald attire, and to present to her votaries her annual tribute of ambrosial flowers and golden fruits. The philosopher and the naturalist—and the farmer should be both—may take pleasure in contemplating the benign process by which ingredients, the most offensive to the human senses, are converted into articles that gratify the most delicate taste and pamper the most luxurious appetite.

In awarding the Society's premiums, the committee have endeavored to fulfil the supposed intentions of the Society; and it gives them pleasure to add, that, in no single instance, was there any difference of opinion. There were but three applications for premiums on farms, and the committee awarded—

To Stephen Howe, of Marlborough, the Society's first premium of $25 00.

To Amos Carleton, of Chelmsford, the second premium of $20 00.

There were eight applications for the premiums offered for reclaimed Bog Meadows. And here the Committee cannot stifle an expression of deep and sincere regret that they had not eight premiums instead of three, at their disposal. All the meadows submitted to their inspection exhibited undoubted evidences of industry and skill in their respective proprietors; and, though some had been reclaimed at greater cost of time and labor than others, yet none had undergone the change from worthless and unproductive fens to rich and valuable land, susceptible of exuberant production, without the exercise of patient and intelligent industry. Where all were so deserving, it was painful to make a selection; but the directions of the Society are imperative, and the Committee have awarded—

To Caleb Wetherbee, of Marlborough, the first premium of $20 00.

To E. A. and A. Lawrence, of Pepperell, the second premium of $12 00;—and

To Stephen Morse, of Marlborough, the third premium of $8 00.

The applicants for the Society's premiums for Compost Manure were only two. The Committee cheerfully award the first premium of $10 00 to Oliver C. Rogers, of Woburn.

There were five applicants for the premiums for Apple Orchards.

To Thomas S. Tuttle, of Littleton, is awarded the first premium of $15 00.

To Jonas Viles, of Waltham, the second premium of $12 00.

To Benjamin Wheeler, of Framingham, the third premium of $8 00.

There were also five applicants for two premiums offered for Peach Orchards.

To Galen Merriam, of West Newton, the Committee awarded the first premium of $10.00;—and

To Benjamin Wheeler, of Framingham, the second premium of $5 00.

Of the two premiums offered for Pear trees, the first, of $10 00, is awarded to Galen Merriam, of West Newton; the second, of $5 00, to Eliphalet Wheeler, of Framingham.

To Simon Whitney. of Framingham, is awarded the premium of $5 00 for the best and only Plum trees to which the attention of the Committee was requested.

The Committee cannot close their Report without remarking, that very few of the statements offered by the applicants present details of practice so ample as the Society requires and has a right to expect. Some of them were too meagre to afford much assistance to the Committee. It is hoped that, hereafter, more attention will be given to this subject, and that applicants for premiums will remember, that much of their own time, as well as the time of the Committee, will be saved, if they will prepare written statements, agreeably to the printed rules of the Society, previous to the official visit of the Committee.

--Abstract from the Returns of Agricultural Societies in Massachusetts - pages 45-51.
Compare to the mostly matter-of-fact account of the 1845 festivities by Moses Prichard in the 1846 Abstract from the Returns of Agricultural Societies in Massachusetts, also digitized and accessible via Google Books.

Good place to go for further research:
Related melvilliana posts:

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