In Melville scholarship the New York Evangelist gets significant attention for influential attacks on Melville and his unflattering views of Protestant missionaries in Typee and Omoo. Melville himself focused on the Evangelist as a potentially damaging source of newspaper criticism. The early, negative review of Typee in the Evangelist on April 9, 1846 (transcribed on page 46 in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews) is signed "H. C.", probably Henry T. Cheever as Keith Huntress and Randall Cluff have independently proposed.
By 1849 the story of the Evangelist and its censure of Typee had made it to Paris and back again:
"Meantime, an austere journal, the New York Evangelist, handled these romantic inventions of Mr. Melville very severely, treated him as an ill-timed jester, and reproached him for having spoken lightly and calumniously of the missionaries at Typee and the Marquesas. --Philarète ChaslesReproach for Melville's impieties (real or imagined) was not confined to the first notice of Typee in April 1846. Three months later, Evangelist editors George Barrell Cheever (Henry's older brother) and Walter Hilliard Bidwell reprinted large portions of the notably hostile review from the July 1846 issue of The Christian Parlor Magazine. The Evangelist correctly identified the reviewer as William Oland Bourne and even re-used the melodramatic title of Bourne's review as originally published in the Christian Parlor: "Typee: the Traducers of Missions."
Substantive comments in-between the liberal excerpts from Bourne's review qualify this editorial as another notice of Melville's Typee in the New York Evangelist. Transcribed below from the New York Evangelist, Thursday, July 16, 1846; found in the online Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank.
As noted at the end of the editorial, "an expurgated edition" of Typee was already in the works. Herman Melville read or heard that term "expurgated edition" somewhere--perhaps indirectly from Evert Duyckinck, unless Melville read this particular Evangelist notice all the way to the end. Anyhow he didn't like expurgated, as we know from the emphatic complaint and pointed use of Revised in his letter to Evert Duyckinck, written later in July 1846:
The Revised (Expurgated? — Odious word!) Edition of Typee ought to be duly announced — --Melville's Correspondence
Typee: the Traducers of Missions
This is the title of a vigorously written review of the work entitled "Typee," in the July number of the Christian Parlor Magazine. It is from the pen of Wm. Oland Bourne, and contains a severe and just exhibition and rebuke of the character of the book noticed, especially in reference to the base slanders thrown out in it against the South Sea Missions. It is to this point especially, that we wish to call the attention of our readers. An insult of this nature against the cause of missions at this day is too gross to be permitted to pass, especially in a work which has been highly commended for the interest of the narrative, and which finds its way in many places where no knowledge whatever exists as to the true merit of the South Sea missionary enterprise. We are glad to see the book handled with the severity which it deserves.
"We shall attempt," says the reviewer, "to canvass some of its statements, wherein the cause of MISSIONS is assailed, with a pertinacity of misrepresentation, and degree of hatred, which can only entitle the perpetrator to the just claim of traducer. We know what we are saying, when we use these terms; we have read this book, word by word; we have studied it carefully with reference to these very points, for to all that appertains to the missionary work we are sensitively alive; and we were gladdened when we first saw it, with the prospect of learning something more, from an impartial source, concerning the practical operations of the missionary enterprise in that interesting region of the earth known as Polynesia. But we were soon disappointed; instead of a calm and unbiased view, we have on every occasion a tissue of misrepresentation and detraction of the labors of the devoted men and women who have exiled themselves for the purpose of carrying the gospel to some of the most degraded and benighted children of Adam."
These charges are amply sustained by the reviewer. He gives extracts from the work, fully proving his averments. He then enters into something of an historical examination of the condition of the islands before and since the commencement of the missionary enterprise. The testimony of Captain Wilkes, of the United States Exploring Expedition, in favor of the Missions, and in demonstration of the true sources of evil to the islands, is brought forward with great effect, to show the slanderous nature of the insinuations and charges of the author of Typee, slanders not worth noticing, except that the book carries them to readers almost entirely ignorant of other and true sources of information. The reviewer says:
"Before proceeding to our investigation of his statements concerning the missionaries, we remark of the book generally: 1. It is filled with the most palpable and absurd contradictions; 2. These contradictions are so carelessly put together as to occur in consecutive paragraphs; 3. It is throughout laudatory of the innocence and freedom from care of the barbarians of the South Seas, particularly the Marquesans; 4. It compares their condition with civilized society as being the more desirable of the two; 5. It either excuses and wilfully palliates the cannibalism and savage vices of the Polynesians, or is guilty of as great a crime in such a writer, that of ignorance of his subject; and, 6. It is redundant with bitter charges against the missionaries, piles obloquy upon their labor and its results, and broadly accuses them of being the cause of the vice, misery, destitution, and unhappiness of the Polynesians wherever they have penetrated."
The author of "Typee" was so delighted with the gentleness and simplicity of the cannibals among whom he passed his time, that he thought a mission from them to us might tend to elevate us. He says:
"The term 'Savage' is, I conceive, often misapplied, and indeed, when I consider the vices, cruelties, and enormities of every kind that spring up in the tainted atmosphere of a feverish civilization, I am inclined to think, that so far as the relative wickedness of the parties is concerned, four or five Marquesan Islanders sent to the United States as missionaries, might be quite as useful as an equal number of Americans despatched to the Islands in a similar capacity."Cannibalism to a certain moderate extent is practiced among several of the primitive tribes in the Pacific, but it is upon the bodies of slain enemies alone; and horrible and fearful as the custom is, immeasurably as it is to be abhorred and condemned, still I assert that those who indulge in it are in other respects humane and virtuous." —p. 262Assuredly, the idea of cannibal missionaries is a new thing under the sun. Cannibalism, taught in the United States to a certain moderate extent, not carried too far, might tend to make us in other respects more humane and virtuous, especially upon the bodies of slain enemies alone. A score of these Marquesan apostles of humanity and virtue might be very useful in the war with Mexico. Mr. Melville, the author of "Typee," thinks it a wonderful proof of gentleness and refinement, that the Marquesans do not eat their enemies alive, as they do their fishes; they never think of eating men until they have killed them, and then they eat moderately, in a humane and virtuous way.
Now, would our readers believe that the man who writes in this way of the humanity and virtue of his savage friends, lived in daily and intense dread of being eaten by them himself? Would they believe that he considered his escape from the stomachs of these moderate and humane cannibals to be almost a miracle? Let them read his own descriptions of his misery. "All hail," exclaims the reviewer, "Apostle of Cannibalism! Welcome, self-imolated herald of classic barbarism! Thou hast published the ritual, how soon shall we be initiated into the highmasonry of savage enjoyment, with the perpetual seal of the picturesque tattoo!"
The reviewer gives some facts in regard to the humane manners of the cannibals of these Islands, and observes that if Mr. Melville's system of ethics is founded on facts, he should be curious to see it in detail. The anthropological moderation and humanity was such, that it was a pity to have such primitive virtues blasted by the teachings of the missionaries. There was the destruction of children, for example, by these humane and virtuous cannibals. Three women, of whom Mr. Williams speaks, had destroyed twenty-one between them, while another mother on her death-bed confessed to the slaughter of sixteen. "Nevertheless," says Mr. Melville, "there being cannibalism only to a moderate extent, I assert that those who indulge in it are in other respects humane and virtuous." Noble and generous frankness in Mr. Melville! Pity that the poor savage, whom he struck down with his boat-hook into the water, in his eagerness to escape, and the dreadful look of whose face, as it turned up to the surface, he will not to his dying day forget, could not have known with what generous sentiments his breast was filled, and how he was hastening back to the United States to clear the character of his savage friends from the aspersions of the missionaries, and to proclaim the moderation and delicacy with which they indulged in eating men, not even eating them alive, but killing them first, and in other respects humane and virtuous! But let us see something more of this moderation in detail:
"On the 11th of February, 1840, Messrs. Hunt and Lythe, with their ladies, missionaries to Carolib or Goat Island, were witnesses to a cannibal entertainment. The circumstances are briefly these: The king had sent a servant to Lauthala, and a quarrel arising, he was killed. An order was given to attack the town, when, according to some reports, three hundred, according to others, thirty persons, without respect to age, sex, or condition, were slain and eaten on the spot. Eleven bodies were brought to the king's square, immediately in front of the missionaries' dwelling. Mr. Hunt stood within his garden fence and saw the bodies distributed, and one cut up and cooked within two or three yards of it. and eaten—Wilkes' Narrative, vol. iii. 153, 155.— This is being 'primitive' with a witness!
"The following tragic events recently transpired in Viti Levui, the principal island of the Feejee group, between Ambua, Mbua, or Bau and Rewa districts. Rev. John Marston gives these among other facts:
"We have found that the cruelties and cannibalism of Feejee exceed all the description which has been given; not one-half has been told. The whole cannot be told. The war between Bau and Rewa is still carried on. Some towns have been burned, and many persons have been killed and eaten, since we last wrote; and it is more than probable that hundreds more will follow them ere the war terminates. At Bau, perhaps, more human beings are eaten than anywhere else. A few weeks ago they ate twenty-eight in one day. They had seized their wretched victims while fishing, and brought them alive to Bau, and there half-killed them, and then put them into their ovens. Some of them made several vain attempts to escape from the scorching flames. It makes our hearts bleed to hear of their fiend-like cruelty; and we pray God, and beseech the Christian world to pray with us, that the wickedness of this cruel people may soon come to an end."
To these instances of moderation the reviewer suggests the addition of the murder of Rev. Mr. Williams, and his colleague, Harris, in 1839, and the subsequent events at Erromanga.
The reviewer takes up the appendix of Mr. Melville, which he characterizes as the very essence of meanness in slander, and with great keenness of satire exposes the malignity and wantonness, as well as groundlessness of the innuendoes and accusations against the missionaries. Mr. Melville is careful to observe that against the cause of missions in the abstract no Christian can possibly be opposed! Wonderful discrimination!
In accounting for the malevolent aspect of this book against the cause of missions, the reviewer gives the following classification:
"There are several classes of men who compose the grand order of antagonists to missions. We roughly classify as follows:
"1. The merchants, tracers, speculators, and others, who go to the South Seas for the purpose of engaging in mercantile pursuits.
"2. Masters and crews of whaling and trading vessels, who stop a day or two, or longer, at the islands, for supplies and refits.
"3. Deserters from vessels of every description, of which our author is a lively specimen.
"4. Adventurers and passengers who are on their route to distant points, and who are prejudiced against religion anywhere.
5. Convicts escaped from Botany Bay and other parts of New South Wales.
"These, it will be perceived, are all directly interested parties. Attracted by purely selfish motives, and often as reckless of virtue and as abandoned as the most depraved of the Polynesians, they find their schemes of aggrandizement at the expense of the ignorant tribes, or their gross and corrupt appetites, checked by the presence of the missionary establishments, and the, at least partial, establishment of Christianity. Hence the continual and virulent attempts to throw infamy upon the laborers in the remote Pacific. We make one short quotation here in passing, to show that our author has given a true representation in one instance, of an evil universally complained of by all the missionaries:
" 'Our ship was now wholly given up to every species of riot and debauchery. The grossest licentiousness and the most shameful inebriety prevailed, with occasional and but short-lived interruptions, through the whole period of her stay. Alas for the poor savages, when exposed to the influence of these polluting examples! Unsophisticated and confiding, they are easily led into every vice, and humanity weeps over the ruin thus remorselessly inflicted upon them by their European civilizers. Thrice happy are they who, inhabiting some yet undiscovered island in the midst of the ocean, have never been brought into contaminating contact with the white man.' "—Vol. i. p. 17.And yet this writer, in another part of his volume, speaks of the Areoi Society, a diabolical native institution, which existed before the discovery of the islands, and spread universal licentiousness, and which only the teachings of the missionaries have abolished. He speaks of it simply as one of the most singular institutions that ever existed in any part of the world, and perhaps he would add that in other respects the people were humane and virtuous, even the ceremonies of that Society being of "a certain moderate extent," like the virtuous cannibalism of the primitive, unsophisticated tribes.
We have not space to go farther into the examination of this book, nor to follow the reviewer in his exposure of Mr. Melville's slanders. But we cannot avoid laying before our readers the powerful corroboration of the reviewer's statements in the impartial and incontrovertible testimony of Capt. Wilkes. This gentleman had frequent opportunities of becoming familiar, by his protracted visits to many of the groups of islands with the missionaries and their labors, and he says, in his remarks on Tahiti, as quoted by the reviewer:
"All this good has been done in the face of many and great difficulties. The most serious of these is the evil influence of the other foreign residents. Although among these are some who are truly respectable, the majority is made up of runaways from the English convict settlements, and deserters from vessels. These men, the outcasts and refuse of every maritime nation, are addicted to every description of vice, and would be a pest even in a civilized community. It may easily be conceived what an injurious influence such a band of vagabonds, without trade or occupation by which they can support themselves, guilty of every species of profanity and crime, must exert upon the morals of the natives, and what a barrier they must oppose to their improvement in morals and religion.
Tahiti, when first visited, was proverbial for its licentiousness, and it would be asking too much to require that, after so short an enjoyment of the means of instruction, and in the face of such obstacles, its inhabitants should, as a body, have become patterns of good morals. Licentiousness does still exist among them, but the foreign residents and visitors are in a great degree the cause of its continuance, and an unbridled intercourse with them serves to perpetuate it. Severe laws have been enacted, but they cannot be put in force in cases where one of the parties is a foreigner. I see no reason, however, why this island should be pointed out as conspicuous for licentiousness. When compared with other parts of the world that arrogate a superior civilization, it appears almost in an advantageous light. Vice, at any rate, does not stalk abroad in the open day, as it did in some places we had lately visited upon the American continent. It would be unfair to judge of these natives before they had received instruction, by our rules of propriety; and now many of those who bear testimony to the laxity of their morals, visit their shores for the very purpose of enticing them into guilt, and of rioting without fear or hindrance in debauchery. Coming with such intentions, and finding themselves checked by the influence of the missionaries, they rail against them because they have put an end to the obscene dances and games of the natives, and procured the enactment of laws forbidding illicit intercourse.—Narrative of the Exploring Expedition, vol. ii. pp. 12-13.
"I cannot pass without notice, the untiring efforts of many of the foreign residents to disparage the missionaries and vilify the natives. They endeavor on all occasions to prepossess the minds of visitors against both. These efforts, however, generally fail of success; for no reflecting mind can fail to perceive how devoid they are of any foundation, nor avoid noticing the baneful effects these residents are themselves producing, by inculcating principles for which many of them have been compelled to fly their own countries, or teaching the practice of crimes from whose penalty they have made their escape."—Ex. Expedition, vol. ii. p. 13.
Some of these remarks are applicable with singular point and fitness to the author of "Typee," himself a runaway sailor. We only add that the reviewer most justly remarks, that unless Mr. Melville would seriously prefer to throw back the Polynesians to the shocking state in which they were a hundred years ago, he richly deserves, for having written as he has done concerning the labors of the missionaries, "the scorn of an intelligent community."
While this article is in press, we learn that an expurgated edition of the book in question is just about to be published. We can only hope that the expurgators will do the task thoroughly, for in that case only can it be heartily recommended by the lovers of truth, missions and modesty.
--The New York Evangelist, July 16, 1846