Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pittsfield 1856

Pittsfield (Massachusetts)
Lithograph via The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Lithograph by Jean Jacottet and Joseph-Gabriel Aubrun, from a drawing by James Colt Clapp. Published before 1860 in New York by Goupil & Co. Described by Boston Rare Maps as
A lovely and rare view of Pittsfield, Mass. looking south from the grounds of the Maplewood Young Ladies’ Institute. The general impression is of a prosperous, largely pre-industrial town in a lovely natural setting, with many fine churches and other large structures. Pittsfield became a manufacturing power house with the arrival of General Electric in the 20th century, but these changes are merely intimated by two tiny trains moving across the view in the middle distance.
The drawing by James C. Clapp was made in 1856 according to the caption in the 1911 souvenir program for the 150th Anniversary Celebration in Pittsfield:
This view of Pittsfield, from one of the Maplewood buildings, is reproduced from a lithograph printed in Paris after a drawing made by Mr. James C. Clapp in 1856. --Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 1761-1911

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pip and the Kohinoor Diamond

The Illustrated London News - May 31, 1851
"This Engraving represents the Koh-i-Noor, or Mountain of Light, once the property of Runjeet Singh, now exhibited by her Majesty, and which, for the purpose of better inspection, is mounted upon pillars, within a gilt iron cage, prepared for the occasion by Messrs. Chubb. The machinery connected with it is so arranged, that, at the close of each day's exhibition, this valuable gem is lowered into an iron case for security during the night. Below the jewels themselves are exhibited the settings in which they originally stood" (496). [Picture and caption describe the Kohinoor exhibit before the addition of gaslight and mirrors.]
The "Castaway" of chapter 93 in Moby-Dick is Ahab's black cabin boy who goes by the nickname "Pippin." Pip, for short. Pip falls overboard and then goes kind of crazy. Beloved of Captain Ahab, Pip will play the wise Fool to Ahab's Lear. To foreshadow Pip's transformation to a major Shakespearean player in the high tragedy of The Whale, Melville compares Pip to a diamond that sparkles most dazzlingly when on display, artificially ("fictitiously") illuminated by gaslight.

Nor smile so, while I write that this little black was brilliant, for even blackness has its brilliancy; behold yon lustrous ebony, panelled in king's cabinets. But Pip loved life, and all life's peaceable securities; so that the panic-striking business in which he had somehow unaccountably become entrapped, had most sadly blurred his brightness; though, as ere long will be seen, what was thus temporarily subdued in him, in the end was destined to be luridly illumined by strange wild fires, that fictitiously showed him off to ten times the natural lustre with which in his native Tolland County in Connecticut, he had once enlivened many a fiddler's frolic on the green; and at melodious even-tide, with his gay ha-ha! had turned the round horizon into one star-belled tambourine. So, though in the clear air of day, suspended against a blue-veined neck, the pure-watered diamond drop will healthful glow; yet, when the cunning jeweller would show you the diamond in its most impressive lustre, he lays it against a gloomy ground, and then lights it up, not by the sun, but by some unnatural gases. Then come out those fiery effulgences, infernally superb; then the evil-blazing diamond, once the divinest symbol of the crystal skies, looks like some crown-jewel stolen from the King of Hell.  --Moby-Dick, Chapter 93 - The Castaway
Lit up with the right machinery, Melville's metaphorical diamond proves to be no ordinary diamond but a "crown-jewel." The Devil's crown jewel, that is, since the "fiery effulgences" emitted by the sparkling diamond figure madness--in Pip, and in crazy Ahab, too. As Melville conceives it, this devilish diamond appears to have been "stolen from the King of Hell."

Melville's figurative diamond in "The Castaway" chapter of Moby-Dick has a famous contemporary analogue in the Koh-i-noor Diamond.

"the brightest jewel in Queen Victoria's crown" (A Chapter on Diamonds, New Monthly Magazine 89 - August 1850; reprinted in Littell's Living Age, January 18, 1851).
the Kohinoor or "Mountain of Light" was on exhibit in London at the Crystal Palace in June 1851, just when Melville was finishing his whaling epic--writing the last chapters, editing and proofreading others.

Like Melville's metaphorical one, the real Kohinoor was the matchless prize of successive wars, a "crown jewel" that was "stolen" and really did need the help of artfully contrived lighting to display its most dazzling effects.

London Observer, June 15, 1851
From The Times of London, June 13, 1851:
Another point of public interest relates to the Koh-i-Noor. After all the work which has been made about that celebrated diamond our readers will be rather surprised to hear that many people find a difficulty in bringing themselves to believe from its external appearance, that it is anything but a piece of common glass. Amid all the adventures that have befallen it, there is, perhaps, none more odd than that its genuineness should now be doubted. Yet so it is. The fact is, that the "Mountain of Light" has been shockingly ill-used in the cutting, and that when placed in the open light of day, without any arrangements to draw forth its brilliancy, it does not sparkle and gleam like other jewels of the kind. To obviate this disadvantage, and demonstrate to the world that the Koh-i-Noor is a veritable diamond, it is to be surrounded with a canopy or tent, the interior of which is to be lighted with gas, and the idea is that this will develop its beauties as a gem of the purest water, with a certainty and splendour which undoubtedly are not attained at present.
Fifteen days after the above item appeared in the London Times, it was reprinted in the Boston Evening Transcript (June 28, 1851). By the second week in July the news had traveled as far west as Milwaukee.

Found on

Context makes me think Melville probably had seen the latest news about the Great Exhibition in London when he expanded on the role of Pip near the start of chapter 93 in Moby-Dick. The celebrity of the Koh-i-noor diamond as preeminent spoil of war and its very public status as actual, literal "crown jewel" seem to underlie Melville's image of the artfully illuminated diamond as "some crown-jewel stolen from the King of Hell." Then, too, Melville prefaces the diamond figure with an interesting reference to ebony cabinets. Real cabinets of ebony and alabaster were featured in the "Indian Saloon" of the London Exhibition. Ebony cabinets and the Kohinoor are described together in one report from London correspondent "Quantum," published in The New York Tribune on June 23, 1851.

More formally, the talk of ebony and diamonds occurs in the third paragraph of an introductory narrative sequence that seems tacked on (much of it anyway) for the purpose of foreshadowing. Melville evidently wants to prepare readers better for the development of Pip's character, as Pip changes from merry entertainer to disturbed soulmate. Pip's "brilliancy" was formerly "blurred" and "subdued." So it was with the Kohinoor diamond which almost "seemed paste" and needed "arrangements to draw forth its brilliancy" before it could "sparkle and gleam like other jewels of the kind." The tacked-on feeling of Melville's set-up seems acknowledged, implicitly, in the transition back to the main narrative:
"But let us to the story."  --Moby-Dick, The Castaway
For more on the Kohinoor, check out this informative blog post on the Victoria and Albert Museum website by Archivist Nicholas Smith:
Smith opens by citing a new book that I have to get now:
Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand, (Bloomsbury, 2017).

Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion - October 25, 1851

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Gansevoort Melville, 1846 memorial by William E. Cramer

Zelica and Azim from Moore's Lalla Rookh
Drawing by John Tenniel via The University of Adelaide

William Edward Cramer was editor of the Albany Argus in 1843-6. His father was Polk's friend John Cramer of Waterford in Saratoga County. Transcribed below, the complete text of Cramer's published tribute to the memory of Herman Melville's older brother Gansvoort. Respecting Gansvoort Melville's affection for poetry and romance, Cramer chose a line from Moore's Lalla Rookh to convey something of the grief felt by his surviving family members and friends.

From the Washington Union, June 13, 1846:


Though much has already been said by the press on the death of Gansevoort Melville, yet there are incidents connected with his life and character deeply interesting to the young men of our country, which deserve more than a passing notice.

Gansevoort Melville, though young in years, with the disadvantages of a self-education, had already acquired an eminence and a reputation given to few young men of our republic.

As an orator he was peculiarly gifted. His imagination was rich and brilliant, but strong and just, combined with that extraordinary command of language which gave peculiar power to his burning thoughts and earnest manner. His heart was warm and noble, as an orator's should be, to move the masses. He was also endowed with every external attribute to give effect to the fascinations of his mind and manner. His voice was expressive, and yet its deep tones could be distinctly heard by thousands. His figure was majestic—some might say, colossal; his eye, large and black, with the glance of a Webster, and with a head and forehead whereon was stamped, by the "seal of Nature," the elements of a great and commanding character. His mind and heart and personal appearance were alike calculated to inspire that pride and admiration which spring from the conviction that he would be worthy of the highest destiny which could be awarded to an American.

In unison with the warmth of his feelings, he was enthusiastic in his attachment to democratic principles. During the presidential canvass of 1844 this spirit induced him to undertake a tour to the southwestern States, to attend the great convention at Nashville. How admirably he acquitted himself there, in the presence of such orators as Cass, and Douglass, Hise and Marshall, and before the assembled thousands of Tennessee and Alabama, we have the evidence of a statesman who, for twenty years in the House of Representatives, has heard the first orators of our country, and who now occupies an honorable position in the cabinet of the President. At that time he wrote, "Your friend Melville made one of the best speeches I ever heard." His return through Kentucky, Ohio, and western New York, gave him an opportunity to measure his strength with some of the ablest men of our country. The large numbers of people which gathered to hear him wherever he went, was an evidence that he had already a foothold among the masses of which an older statesman might be proud.

Soon after the inauguration of President Polk, he was tendered by the President the secretaryship of the legation to England in a manner so frank and kind, that he was induced to accept it, against the advice of some of his trusted friends. That he acquitted himself in his honorable mission in a manner worthy of himself and his country, is one of the noblest consolations to his mourning friends. But it was beautiful to see Mr. Melville in the family of his mother and sisters. He was not loved, but rather idolized, with a love "passing that of earth," and he reciprocated that attachment with an intensity few "can wot of."

From an intimacy of many years, we may say that an affectionate son, a most devoted brother, a warm and true-hearted friend, an earnest politician, with a sagacity worthy of riper years, a gifted orator, a nature chivalrous and lofty in its impulses, an ambition noble in its objects, loving power and place, but his country more, with every attribute of external interest, constituted the person and character of Gansevoort Melville.

When such men die in the spring-time of life, we may mourn their loss, not alone for their friends and family, whose anguish is
"Past all wounds the quivering flesh can bear,"
but for their country. In this case the affliction is the deeper, as Gansevoort Melville gave every promise of a career of elevated usefulness, honorable distinction, and devoted patriotism, such as a republic needs from her sons.

Waterford, Saratoga co., N. Y.
Found on
Orator "Hise" is Elijah Hise of Kentucky. Later Walter N. Haldeman said Hise had been making the same speech "on every occasion for the last ten or fifteen years" (Louisville Daily Courier, January 23, 1851). The former congressman and current member of James Polk's Cabinet who praised Gansevoort Melville's Nashville oration as "one of the best speeches I ever heard" must be Cave Johnson, the only ex-Representative among three former Congressmen in Polk's cabinet.