Friday, January 22, 2016

Southern readers as Fayaways and Mehevis, indifferent to home-grown genius

Image Credit: Earnest J. Gaines Center Blog
Under the head of "Paragraphs for the Times," a correspondent (or the editor, D. C. Jenkins?) of the New Orleans Sunday Delta (June 21, 1857) complains of the "miserable literary subordinacy of the South," comparing southern readers, indifferent to southern writers, to Melville's "voluptuous and indolent Typees." Below is an excerpt only, not the full rant. Ironically, considering the blast at "servile dependence upon European and Northern bookwrights," the first "paragraphs" (not transcribed here) were devoted to Dickens and Thackeray.

Literary Subordinacy of the South 

Herman Melville—we like those men whose wizard genius brings to us amber-colored dreams—draws with the pencil of a poet-painter a glorious picture of a Happy Valley hidden among the palm-covered hills of the Marquesas, where the voluptuous and indolent Typees spend their time in the temple of their god with King Mehevi, and in paying court to the fair, young Fayaways lingering beneath the shade of the trees. In the deep stillness which reigns over the valley at mid-day, when every Typee is enjoying an undisturbed siesta, birds with brilliant wings, flashing in the sun, fly noiselessly in the air, beautiful to look upon, yet songless as death. 
We of the South, in the blazing light of this nineteenth century, though we boast a bolder, greater, grander race than the heathens of the far-distant isles which here and there dot the Pacific, are not unlike the self-complacent Typees. We, too, linger aobut the temple of our god, and though it is not of wood or stone, it is equally disrespectful to the Deity. The god of gold, the shining, captivating Mammon, is set up in our midst, for recklessly parodying Maximillian Robespierre, we seem to think, “if there is no God it is necessary to create one!” We, too, dwell in a Happy Valley, caring nothing about home intellectual nutriment, if it is allowable to compare the sensual to the spiritual; indifferent to the splendid birds of song which hover about us, silent as those of the Marquesas—not, however, because Heaven has sealed their throats, but because to build the lofty rhyme is neither to be applauded nor supported. 
Our Southern Mehivas [sic] idly turn over the leaves of a Southern book, and lay it contemptuously aside to dream of the rise or fall of Cotton. Our fair Fayaways having much the same feeling for Southern literature, whether embodied in books, magazines or newspapers, daintily put them away for the last new sensation story of the redoubtable Sylvanus Cobb, or some other Northern literary charlatan. Nothing good can come out of Nazareth, thought the Judeans of the olden time, though Incarnate Divinity moved in their midst—nothing good can come out of the South think thousands of our own people, though the land is full of Genius, the essence of that Divinity towards whom the wise men of the East turned, all radiant with joy! 
Sir Walter Scott said of Jeffrey, that he “had scarcely body enough to cover his brains.” There are abundance of similar men in the South, filled to the lip-brim with song, and endowed with the highest intellectual gifts. Poets, historians, essayists and painters exist everywhere in the South, who only want the genial smile of encouragement to bring out the rare intellectual qualities which for years have slumbered. They feel that the non-appreciation and non-patronage of learning, literature, science and the arts is humiliating. They are keenly alive to the miserable literary subordinacy of the South, and its servile dependence upon European and Northern bookwrights. They are fully aware that no people can be called independent who have not an independent literature. But in the present state of popular sentiment, it were madness for most of them to make literature a profession. There are more Otways and Tannahills among men of genius than there are Mat Priors and Sam Rogerses. Starvation is a most unpalatable sort of suicide....

--from the New Orleans Sunday Delta, June 21, 1857; found in the Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank
At first I wrongly took "An Old Fogy" to be the pseudonym of the writer of "Paragraphs for the Times." But the pseudonym appears in a different unrelated paragraph, where the Sunday Delta correspondent or rather editor (as now seems more likely) is quoting a previous column in the Baton Rouge Advocate signed, "AN OLD FOGY."

Additional references to Melville's South Sea narratives in "Paragraphs for the Times" appear in the New Orleans Sunday Delta on April 18, 1858 ("A Cuban Lulu") and August 8, 1858 ("Polynesian Dances"). So who was the Melville fan who edited the New Orleans Sunday Delta in 1857-8?

Donelson Caffery Jenkins?

Update 12/11/2016: John W. Overall, more likely. See the related post on

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The New York Public Library just made more than 180,000 items available online


 Hallelujah!
"The move is part of a larger trend toward libraries and museums making their collections available online. From presidential papers to globes to collections of historic photojournalism, there’s a rush to digitize anything and everything in the public domain—and make it available to as many people as possible...."

The New York Public Library just made more than 180,000 items available online

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Khadija in White-Jacket

In a previous post I guessed one of the erased words in Elizabeth Melville's set of Channing (volume 3, page 123) might be a form of "Khadija." Reading Dorothee Metlitsky Finkelstein on Melville's Orienda, I'm reminded that Melville actually names Khadija in White-Jacket (1850):
And, like that old exquisite, Mohammed, who so much loved to snuff perfumes and essences, and used to lounge out of the conservatories of Khadija, his wife, to give battle to the robust sons of Koriesh; even so this Rio land-breeze comes jaded with sweet-smelling savours, to wrestle with the wild Tartar breezes of the sea.

--Herman Melville, White-Jacket, chapter 65 - A Man-of-War Race
Something like my conjectural reading "Khadija" or "Kadija" could help explain two features of the "enigmatic word" as described by Dawn Coleman in Mahomet's Gospel and Other Revelations (p. 80):
  1. Professor Coleman's observation that "the first two letters are strangely muddy, a mishmash of marks" might reflect the annotator's uncertainty about the correct spelling of "Khadija"; and
  2. an erased capital letter "K" could account for the appearance of "an initial graph that may have been an 'f' or abortive capital."
Gibbon on Mahomet, as Dorothee Metlitzki showed, was definitely the source for Melville's remark on "the uncommon beauty of his person" with reference to the "upstart prophet" Foni in Mardi (1849). Gibbon, who casts Mahomet as the leader of "an infant congregation of Unitarians," also notes the unavoidably mundane character of his early efforts:
"The first and most arduous conquests of Mahomet were those of his wife, his servant, his pupil, and his friend; since he presented himself as a prophet to those who were most conversant with his infirmities as a man."  --History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 5
So whatever it really says, the erased annotation in volume 3 of Elizabeth Melville's set of Channing's Works need not be interpreted as a factually mistaken assumption of Mohammed's poverty. What connects Channing's Jesus to Gibbon's Mahomet is the grand ideal of Unitarianism, contrasted with experience of the most familiar, ordinary realities of domestic life.

Considering Melville's reference to Khadija by name in White-Jacket, I'm inclined to stick with my earlier conjecture:
Possibly then Dr. Channing's reference to the humble circumstances of Jesus might have led Melville to recall and somehow note the key role of early converts in Mahomet's own household. According to any number of popular histories in Melville's day Mahomet's grand revelation--his "Gospel" (or is it "Qur'an?") of God's Unity--was first embraced by improbably domestic disciples: Khadija. Zeid, Ali, and Abu Bekr.  --Mad, Zeid, or Khadija?
If you're wondering why it's so hard to say exactly what the annotator wrote, take a look at the digitized image of page 123 in volume 3 of the Works of William E. Channing at NYPL.


For a much better squint at some of the erased writing, check out the enhanced image at Melville's Marginalia Online.

Consulting the online Documentary Note for this set, I'm wondering now how Lemuel Shaw can be excluded from consideration as another possible annotator, in addition to Elizabeth Melville and her husband. Judge Shaw inscribed the set to his daughter--so obviously he owned the volumes first, who knows for how long.
Lemuel Shaw by Southworth & Hawes

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

J. E. A. Smith's projected Melville biography

Not the 1891 newspaper memorial of Melville the "Great Pittsfield Author," but a never-completed book. As discussed in The Early Lives of Melville by Merton M. Sealts, Jr. (pp. 38-9), J. E. A. "Uncle Joe" Smith intended to write Herman Melville's life and had consulted about the project with Herman's widow Elizabeth Shaw Melville. Unfortunately, as Elizabeth realized, Smith himself was then in poor health:
He is quite advanced in years and much broken physically, though he does not admit itand I fear the undertaking will be too much for him (always seeming to have some literary work in hand)but let him take his own wayas he is so desirous to do it 
--letter to Arthur Stedman, quoted in Sealts, Early Lives of Melville, 39
After Smith's death in 1896, as Sealts also reports, Elizabeth Shaw Melville edited Smith's Evening Journal articles and superintended their republication in the 1897 pamphlet Sketch of Herman Melville.

From the article in the Springfield, Massachusetts Republican (December 15, 1895) headed “Good Skating in Berkshire” by "Our Special Correspondent" and dated "PITTSFIELD, Saturday, December 14":
In view of the fact that Harper Bros of New York have recently brought out an edition of the complete works of Herman Melville, it is interesting to know that Historian J. E. A. Smith has in preparation a life of the well-known novelist, which will probably appear next spring. It was back in the fall of ’91 that the Evening Journal serially published a biographical sketch of Melville from the pen of Mr. Smith, who called his subject “A Great Pittsfield Author.” Melville and Berkshire county were intimate friends, and the story of their acquaintance will form an interesting chapter in the forthcoming volume. For the rest, there will be an appreciative summing up of his life and work. Illustrations will be few but characteristic, and will include a view of the kitchen, or living room, as it really was, of Melville’s Berkshire home. No one is more fitted than Mr. Smith to tell the story, for his life-long acquaintance with Berkshire’s spirit and Berkshire men makes him eminently the man to interpret Berkshire’s past for the benefit and entertainment of Berkshire’s present.  --Springfield Republican, Sunday, December 15, 1895
The picture of Melville's "kitchen, or living room" at Arrowhead must be the one published a few years later to illustrate the article "Unveiling a Great Genius" by Mrs. Harriette M. Plunkett (Springfield Republican, Sunday, July 1, 1900). Plunkett's theme there is Hawthorne's "Great Genius," as unveiled by Melville. Sealts in the notes to Early Lives (p. 248) states that the kitchen/living room photo was made originally in 1870 by C. Seaver, Jr. and professionally copied by Rockwood. Herman's brother Allan is the one who paid Seaver to make the 1870 photograph, as explained by Hershel Parker in Herman Melville: A Biography, 2.707.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

"Bohemian of the ocean": Melville in the National Police Gazette (April 8, 1882)

From "Our Boys in Blue"
Supplement to the Police Gazette of New York, No. 237 (April 8, 1882)
Anyone who wants to obtain a good idea of the life of a man-of-war man enjoys the advantage, at least, of having books to refer to. We have remarked on the fact that the soldier has no historian. The sailor, however, is better off in that respect. 
Numbers of clever, bright and able writers have painted Jack Tar’s life in more or less accurate terms and vivid colors. One of the best books ever written of the sea, both for correctness and interest, is Herman Melville’s “White Jacket.” The sprightly Bohemian of the ocean who has ended his adventurous life by marrying a judge’s daughter and becoming a New York Custom House official, has contributed no little to the literature of Neptune, and of his numerous works “White Jacket” is not the least fascinating. 
Another naval litterateur whose works have done much to familiarize the public with his profession was Lieutenant Wise, U. S. N. The author of Los Gringos, in that entertaining book introduces us to the life of the forecastle and the quarter deck in admirable terms and the only regret one experiences in buying one of his books by, is that there is not more of it.

The life of Wise and Melville painted, though, belongs to the past, to the days of wooden walls and sails. Iron and steam have revolutionized the ways of naval existence until now a navy is principally manned by engineers and firemen. The hard and practical spirit of the age has robbed the schoolboy’s dream of perfect bliss of its chiefest charms and the “wet sheet and flowing sea” days of our navy are over forever....
--from "Our Boys in Blue," Supplement to the Police Gazette of New York, No. 237, April 8, 1882; found at Fulton History

Ahab Beckons: Video is back for MDM20!

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