Sunday, March 12, 2017

Henry Ellis on Eskimos, copied by Henry Livingston

Both the prose sketch and engraving "Of the Esquimaux Indians" published in the New-York Magazine for May 1792 over the signature of "R." were copied from original prose and pictures in A Voyage to Hudson's Bay by Henry Ellis. Figures in the 1792 engraving are redrawn from original illustrations that were first published in 1748, then re-engraved in later translations, editions, and anthologies. Below, an image of the original engraving from the 1748 London edition via Library and Archives Canada.


Below is the picture attributed to Henry Livingston, Jr. via the page for Henry Livingston's Prose on Mary S. Van Deusen's great Henry Livingston website. What happened to the igloo and icebergs?

Esquimaux Indians via Henry Livingston's Prose
Correspondence from "R." with Henry Livingston's illustration of Eskimos is acknowledged by the editor of The New-York Magazine in the March 1792 issue:
"Thanks are due to our esteemed friend R. for his communications.-- The view of the Esquimaux Indians merits attention."  --The New-York Magazine - March 1792
The prose sketch and picture titled "Esquimaux Indians of Hudson's Bay" appeared in the the May 1792 issue. As indicated by credits in the lower margin, the picture was drawn by "H. Livingston" and engraved by "Tiebout," presumably Cornelius Tiebout who worked for New York publishers in the early 1790's.
Except for the anti-romantic vent in the last paragraph, Livingston's prose description of "Esquimaux" people in the New-York Magazine is copied nearly verbatim from Henry Ellis.

"R." in the May 1792 New-York Magazine:
They are robust and inclinable to be fat; their heads are large, and their faces are almost perfectly round and very flat; their eyes are small and black, but very expressive; their hair black and lank: although their limbs are generally well proportioned, their feet are extraordinary small. Their behavior is cheerful and sprightly, but they seem to be very subtle, cunning, and deceitful; great flatterers, much addicted to pilfer from strangers, easily encouraged to a degree of boldness, but as easily frighted.
Henry Ellis in A Voyage to Hudson's Bay (Dublin, 1749):
These People are of a middle Size, robust, and inclinable to be fat, their Heads are large. Faces round and flat, their Complexions swarthy, Eyes black, small and sparkling, Noses flat, Lips big. Hair black and lank, Shoulders broad. Limbs proportionable, but Feet extraordinary small. Their Behaviour is chearful and sprightly; but they seem to be very subtle, designing, cunning and deceitful, great Flatterers, much addicted to pilfer from Strangers, easily encouraged to a degree of Boldness, but as easily frighted.  --Henry Ellis, Voyage to Hudson's Bay
 "R." in the May 1792 New-York Magazine:
Two small canoes passing Hayes's River, got to the middle of it, when one of them sunk, in which was an Indian man, his wife and child: the other canoe being small, and incapable of receiving more than one of the parents and the child, produced a very extraordinary contest between the man and his wife; not but that both of them were willing to devote themselves to save the other, but the difficulty lay in determining which would be the greatest loss to the child. The man used many arguments to prove it more reasonable that he should be drowned than the woman; but she alleged on the contrary, it was for the advantage of the child that she should perish, because, he, as a man, was better able to hunt, and, consequently, to provide for it. The little time there was still remaining, was spent in mutual expressions of tenderness; the woman strongly recommending, as for the last time, to her husband, the care of her child. This being done, they took leave in the water; the woman quitting the side of the canoe, was drowned, and the man, with the child, got safe on shore.
Henry Ellis - A Voyage to Hudson's Bay
... Two small Canoes, passing Hayeses River, when they had got to the middle of it, one
of them, which was made of the Bark of a Birch Tree, sunk, in which was an Indian, his Wife and Child: The other Canoe being small, and incapable of receiving more than one of the Parents, and the Child, produced a very extraordinary Contest between the Man and his Wife, not but that both of them were willing to devote themselves to save the other, but the Difficulty lay in determining which would be the greatest Loss to the Child. The Man used many Arguments to prove it more reasonable, that he should be drowned than the Woman. But she alledged on the contrary, it was more for the advantage of the Child, that she should perish, because he, as a Man, was better able to hunt; and, consequently, to provide for it. The little Time there was still remaining, was spent in mutual Expressions of Tenderness, the Woman strongly recommending, as for the last Time, to her Husband, the Care of her Child. This being done, they took leave in the Water; the Women quitting the Canoe was drowned, and the Man with the Child got safe a-shore and is now taken much Notice of by the People thereabouts.
-- Henry Ellis, A Voyage to Hudson's Bay
Unfortunately, the groundless "controversy" over Livingston's alleged authorship of "The Night Before Christmas" has distracted attention from the kind of scholarship that might lead to a better understanding of real contributions by Henry Livingston, Jr. to American literature and culture in the late 18th century.

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