Monday, January 2, 2017

Angus Bethune Reach on Melville's The Whale


Angus Bethune Reach (1821-1856) is the "A. B. R." who wrote the early notice of Herman Melville's The Whale (as the British edition of Moby-Dick was titled) in his regular column "Town Talk and Table Talk" for the Illustrated London News (1 November 1851).

... The excitement of the Exhibition over, the disturbed publishing trade is beginning to resume its activity, and a fair outburst of works of all classes is announced. Railway books hold a conspicuous place in the list—the growing habit of wiling away the hours upon the rail by reading being apparently likely to exercise as much, and I hope a more, salutary effect upon popular literature than even circulating libraries. The peculiarity of railway books is that they must be pithy, short, and cheap; and if I am not much mistaken, they will speedily give the spun-out thirty-shilling three-volume novels a blow which will greatly accelerate the downward progress which has been observable for some time in the class of books in question. Among the works of travel announced, Hungarian adventures take the lead; and all opinions about the late revolution and its champions will, no doubt, find their advocates. As to the works of fancy, two, in two very different departments, seem to be attracting most attention—one a controversial and pro-Catholic novel called "Cecile," and understood to be the production of the Count de Jarnac, under the nom-de-guerre of Sir Charles Rockingham; and the other Herman Melville's last and best and most wildly imaginative story, "The Whale." The controversial novel [Cecile] is remarkable for fairness, good temper, and good humour—most rare qualities in books of the kind; and the personages are so conceived as to be types of the principal different parties and classes into which the late Aggression agitation split up the community. Mr. Melville's romance will worthily support his reputation for singularly vivid and reckless imaginative power—great aptitude for quaint and original philosophical speculation, degenerating, however, too often into rhapsody and purposeless extravagance—an almost unparalleled power over the capabilities of the language.
Thus, everybody says a whale is not a fish. "Pooh, pooh!" replies Herman Melville, "don't talk such fiddle faddle to me; an animal who is not amphibious, and who lives totally in the sea, is, if the common sense of language is to be preserved, a fish, and nothing but a fish, his lungs and warm blood to the contrary, notwithstanding." Here, indeed, is Melville's definition of a whale—"A spouting fish with a horizontal tail." Now, porpoises spout, or at all events have a spout-hole, and perpendicular tails. Mr. Melville is no whit daunted. "Good," he replies, “and porpoises are nothing but small whales."
--Angus Bethune Reach in The Illustrated London News - Volume 10
The 1851 notice of The Whale signed "A. B. R." is reprinted in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews. However, the writer's identity has not been more exactly established (so far as I know) in published Melville scholarship. Nevertheless, "A. B. R." of the Illustrated London News unquestionably is Angus Bethune Reach--as long recognized in scholarship on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
"Renowned for his vivid descriptive writing, comic inventiveness and prodigious powers of work, Angus B. Reach at mid-century had become one of London's best known literary men. In addition to a vast output of miscellaneous writing, he made signal contributions to two of the most characteristic periodical genres of the 1840's: detailed social investigation and illustrated comic journalism. His illness and death at an early age removed from the literary scene one of its most popular and promising talents, and was universally construed as a warning against the dangers of authorial overwork." --Patrick Leary - Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland, ed. Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor
During the latter 1840's Angus Bethune Reach co-edited The Man in the Moon, briefly a rival of Punch. As Theodore R. Ellis III reports in his article Another Broadside into Mardi, the May 1849 issue of this London humor magazine featured a burlesque of Mardi, probably written by Reach's colleague Albert Smith:
A Page by the Author of Mardi
In the second volume of Jay Leyda's Melville Log, Reach shows up on Elizabeth Shaw Melville's 64th birthday. On June 13, 1886, Herman Melville gave his wife Lizzie a set of four books including the copy of Angus B. Reach's London on the Thames; or, Life above and below. This work is Sealts Number 418 in the online catalog at Melville's Marginalia Online.

Besides his "Town Talk and Table Talk" column for the Illustrated London News, Angus B. Reach was known for his vivid reporting on economic and social conditions in manufacturing districts, via published letters in The Morning Chronicle:
Thereafter he served as the Chronicle's principal reviewer of drama and art, while also writing a weekly 'London Letter' for the Inverness Courier as well as the 'Town and Table Talk' column for the Illustrated London News--Patrick Leary
The entry for ANGUS BETHUNE REACH in Chambers's Cyclopædia of English Literature emphasizes Reach's strong, early association with the London Morning Chronicle.
"He was a native of Inverness; but before he had reached his twentieth year he was in London, busily employed on the Morning Chronicle, as reporter and critic, and let us add, honourably supporting his parents, on whom misfortune had fallen." --Chambers's Cyclopædia of English Literature
The long, intensely engaged review of The Whale in the London Morning Chronicle on 20 December 1851 is partly a retrospective on Melville's whole career to date. Did Angus Bethune Reach write it? His excited mini-review of The Whale in the Illustrated London News contains the kernel of the far more elaborate analysis in the Morning Chronicle. Both notices weigh Melville's characteristic weakness for "rhapsody" and "extravagance" against exceptional "power."

ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS:
Mr. Melville's romance will worthily support his reputation for singularly vivid and reckless imaginative power—great aptitude for quaint and original philosophical speculation, degenerating, however, too often into rhapsody and purposeless extravagance—an almost unparalleled power over the capabilities of the language.
MORNING CHRONICLE:
We could not shut our eyes to the fact that constantly before us we saw, like a plague spot, the tendency to rhapsody—the constant leaning towards wild and aimless extravagance....
... reads like a ghost story done with rare imaginative power and noble might of expression.
And here's something more like a clincher: ABR and the Morning Chronicle writer similarly confuse the terms "horizontal" and "perpendicular" when discussing Melville's unscientific definition of the whale as "a spouting fish with a horizontal tail." 

The Morning Chronicle reviewer for some reason replaces Melville's word horizontal with "perpendicular":
Flinging overboard—not, however, by any means after stating satisfactory reasons why—the commonly received hypothesis that a whale is not a fish, as a mere empty and useless mystification—Melville defines a whale to be "any spouting fish with a perpendicular tail," and under that definition he ranges numerous tribes of animals, such as the porpoise, which are not above four feet long.
"A. B. R." in the Illustrated London News correctly gave "horizontal tail" when quoting Melville's definition, but he then assigned "perpendicular tails" to whale-like porpoises:
Here, indeed, is Melville's definition of a whale—"A spouting fish with a horizontal tail." Now, porpoises spout, or at all events have a spout-hole, and perpendicular tails. Mr. Melville is no whit daunted. "Good," he replies, “and porpoises are nothing but small whales." 
For Herman Melville, perpendicular flukes on a whale signify only a "prodigious blunder" of pictorial representation. The phrase perpendicular tail (or tails) occurs nowhere in Melville's whaling epic. Not in the British edition, not in the American. Among the known contemporary reviews of The Whale, only the ones in the Illustrated London News and the London Morning Chronicle say "perpendicular tail" or "perpendicular tails."

Angus Bethune Reach had been employed by the Morning Chronicle for a decade when the extensive review of Melville's The Whale appeared there. He definitely wrote the notice signed "A. B. R." in the Illustrated London News. Considering his distinctive usage there of "perpendicular tails," it seems likely (or if you prefer, not unlikely) that Angus Bethune Reach wrote the Morning Chronicle review, too.
"For many years he was musical and art critic, as well as principal reviewer, for the 'Morning Chronicle.'" --Dictionary of National Biography: REACH, ANGUS BETHUNE
With a little help from his friend? Wouldn't you know it, Reach's close friend and literary collaborator Shirley Brooks was a huge fan of Melville's The Whale, his "favourite book" as Hershel Parker documents in Herman Melville: A Biography V2.710. Charles Mackay in Forty Years' Recollections devotes a substantial chapter to "Newspaper Work" and a richly detailed memoir of Angus Bethune Reach. In a separate chapter on The Morning Chronicle, Mackay names Shirley Brooks immediately after Angus B. Reach in the register of notable staff members. Recalling Shirley Brooks's generous aid in the last year of Reach's life, Mackay acknowledges that Brooks
"owed his connection with the press and with the Morning Chronicle to the good offices of Angus Reach."  --Forty Years' Recollections
In personal correspondence with Edward Bradley writing as "Cuthbert Bede" in the London Sketch-Book, Blanchard Jerrold similarly linked Shirley Brooks and Angus Bethune Reach as close friends and co-laborers:
"His [Shirley Brooks's] house became the resort of many men who were then rising, and have since risen, in the realms of literature and art. Angus Reach was his intimate friend, and they worked together for years on the Morning Chronicle." --quoted in The London Sketch-Book - June 1874
Another possibility then: perhaps Shirley Brooks collaborated with Angus Bethune Reach on the long review of Melville's The Whale for the Morning Chronicle. Certainly they were working together on other projects at that time. Brooks and Reach co-wrote A Story with a Vengeance, first published in 1852. Biographer and bibliophile George Somes Layard portrays them in those days as "brothers-in-arms":
Working together, and showing their mettle in the pages of the Man in the Moon, fighting side by side in the ranks of the Morning Chronicle, to the editor of which Angus had also been his introducer, together they laid siege to Punch, and together they eventually, as Mr. Spielmann says, carried the position by assault. They were brothers-in-arms and, as such, must succour one the other when knocked out of time. And Shirley was good at helping lame dogs over stiles.

In 1852 Reach and he, in addition to their other work, collaborated in a little volume entitled "A Story with a Vengeance," now only valuable to the collector as containing wood-engravings after Charles Keene. This was the first and, as it proved, the last of their joint-ventures, for soon after Reach showed signs of brain failure. 
--Shirley Brooks of Punch

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