Friday, October 14, 2016

John Esten Cooke wrote "Virginia Past and Present" in the August 1853 Putnam's

Via Civil War Talk
Excerpts from Virginia Past and Present in the August 1853 issue of Putnam's Monthly Magazine frame the insightful essay by James M. Van Wyck on etiquette in Melville's "Benito Cereno," published just last year in The New England Quarterly

As the title indicates, the 1853 Putnam's article is all about Virginia. The concluding reference to North and South obviously alludes to fundamental and growing national divisions, but even the imagined exchange of "alien glances" takes place within "northern counties" of Virginia, in particular Fairfax. Most helpful for background here is George Winston Smith, writing in the May 1945 Journal of Southern History on "Ante-Bellum Attempts of Northern Business Interests to `Redeem' the Upper South."

Unfortunately, neither George Winston Smith nor James M. Van Wyck says who wrote "Virginia Past and Present."

Melvilliana to the rescue! "Virginia Past and Present" is by John Esten Cooke, who revealed his authorship in a letter to Evert A. Duyckinck, now in the Duyckinck family papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. On October 6, 1853 the ambitious young Virginian (almost 23) wrote:
"Virginia Past and Present" in Putnam for August, I think, is mine. I should be flattered if you found it amusing—always provided you read it.  --John Esten Cooke, 1853 letter to Evert A. Duyckinck;  accessible online from The New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Informed by this letter and presumably other documentary evidence, John Owen Beaty in his 1922 biography identified John Esten Cooke as the author of "Virginia Past and Present," along with Minuet and Polka in the December 1853 Putnam's (where also appeared the conclusion of Melville's story of Bartleby, The Scrivener) and other magazine pieces:
He was fond of historical fact, but he liked to contemplate it in terms of romance. He was not only a literary critic but a critic of manners who saw in the past fine ideals which had been sadly departed from. This theme afforded him the material for several magazine articles; his first contribution to Putnam's (August, 1853) actually bore the title, "Virginia Past and Present." Exceedingly modern seems "Minuet and Polka" with its reference to the "arm around the waist, the breath upon the cheek, the head upon the shoulder." The author, of course, presents a brief for the old-fashioned dance: "The minuet was delicacy, courtesy, lofty-toned respect—in one word—chivalry." Cooke was a skilful literary parodist. He was the author of the "Unpublished Mss. from the Portfolios of the Most Celebrated Authors. By Motley Ware, Esq.,'' which the Duyckinck brothers published in the Literary World during 1853. Along with the burlesques of Carlyle, Dumas, and others Cooke solemnly included one of himself, or rather of such of his work as had appeared under his pseudonym, "Pen Ingleton, Esq." With unerring instinct he chose as a likely subject his great fondness for autumn: "The flutter and glitter of the golden autumn leaves are once more in my eyes and in my heart."  --John Esten Cooke, Virginian
Beaty's bibliography gives these titles of contributions to Putnam's by John Esten Cooke:

1853: August, "Virginia: Past and Present;" December, "Minuet and Polka."
1854: March, "The Cocked Hat Gentry."
1855: May, "The Dames of Virginia."
1856: April, "How I Courted Lulu;" June, "Annie at the Corner;" July, "News from Grassland;" August, "John Randolph;" November, "The Tragedy of Hairston."
1857: June, "Greenway Court."

Speaking of JEC... While helping John Reuben Thompson edit The Southern Literary Messenger, John Esten Cooke opened his review of Curtis's Nile Notes of a Howadji with high praise for Herman Melville:

NILE NOTES OF A HOWADJI. New York. Harper & Brothers: 82 Cliff Street. 1851.

Whatever may be her relative position in other branches of literature, America undoubtedly bears the palm of late years, from all Europe, in her books of Travels. We question if the produce of any age or nation in this department of letters can equal the long series of delightful narratives of which "Typee" is the first, and the work whose title is given above the last. Typee was a new chapter in book-making. Nothing like its poetic reality had ever before issued from travelled brains, and it attracted universal attention here and in Europe, more for this novelty even, than for its striking merit. For ages travellers had been writing books which contained facts, observations, reflections, opinions,—everything but the picturesque. The volumes of English travellers were filled with wearying commonplaces, tiresome "impressions," and personal details which their authors vainly fancied would interest the public equally with themselves. Travel writing was becoming the common resort of the commonest minds, who published their volumes of tedious narratives solely as some offset to the expenses of the journey.

"Typee" was in direct contrast to all this. In it were marvellous adventures, strange lands, a wild people, and all the gorgeous natural wealth of those remote "ultimate dim Thules," delineated with the pen of a master. The interest excited by the book was kept up by "Omoo" and other works from the same hand, and then followed in picturesque succession," Los Gringos," "Kaloolah," and a host of sparkling volumes, not one of them inferior to "Eothen," and in many particulars far superior to that much be-praised performance. Thus has America surpassed beyond all comparison the nation which "never read an American book," and we may say with equal truth, that in spite of MM. Chateaubriand, Lamartine. and Dumas, who have so pleasantly recorded their experiences, she has also excelled the most brilliant writers of France.
John Esten Cooke's authorship of the April 1851 review of Nile Notes is established, as I learned some years ago, by entries in his manuscript journal, now held in the University of Virginia Library, Special Collections. (If I need to go back to Charlottesville to get the exact quote, I will.) John Owen Beaty in his 1922 biography reports that "as one of the mainstays of the Messenger" in this period, John Esten Cooke "edited the March, 1851, number for John Reuben Thompson."

John Esten Cooke (1830-1886) was the younger brother of Philip Pendleton Cooke (1816-1850). Herman Melville we know owned a copy of Philip Pendleton Cooke's Froissart Ballads, which he purchased December 2, 1847. Their uncle was renowned Army cavalry officer Philip St George Cooke--but that's another story.

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