Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Sterling Allen Brown on Benito Cereno

Sterling A. Brown via BlackPast
Benito Cereno (1855) is a masterpiece of mystery, suspense and terror. Captain Delano of the Bachelor's Delight, discovering a vessel in distress along the uninhabited coast of Chile, boards her to render aid. He is interested in the many Negroes he finds on the decks: “ like most men of a good blithe heart he took to Negroes not philanthropically, but genially, just as other men to Newfoundland dogs." He is mystified, however, when the gamesome Negroes flare up in momentary rage, and especially by their continual clashing their hatchets together. Only when Don Benito, in desperation, escapes to Delano's ship, does the real truth dawn. 
There had been a revolt on board the San Dominick; the Negro sailors and the slaves had killed many of the whites, and had kept the others alive only for their skill as navigators in order to reach a Negro country. The mutineers and revolters are overcome in a bloody battle, carried to Lima, and executed. The contrast between the reputed gentleness of Negroes "that makes them the best body-servants in the world," and the fierceness with which they fight for freedom is forcibly driven home. Certain Negroes stand out: Babo who, resembling a "begging friar," engineered the revolt with great skill and is almost fiendish in his manner of breaking down Cereno's morale; Francesco, the mulatto barber; Don José, personal servant of a Spanish Don; and Atulfa [Atufal], an untamed African chieftain, all filled with hatred for whites. Melville graphically pictures the slave mothers, "equally ready to die for their infants or fight for them”; the four old men monotonously polishing their hatchets; and the murderous Ashantees. All bear witness to what Melville recognized as a spirit that it would take years of slavery to break.

Although opposed to slavery, Melville does not make Benito Cereno into an abolitionist tract; he is more concerned with a thrilling narrative and character portrayal. But although the mutineers are bloodthirsty and cruel, Melville does not make them into villains; they revolt as mankind has always revolted. Because Melville was unwilling to look upon men as “Isolatoes," wishing instead of discover the "common continent of man,” he comes nearer the truth in his scattered pictures of a few unusual Negroes than do the other authors of this period. 
-- Sterling Allen Brown, The Negro in American Fiction (Washington, DC, 1937) pages 12-13.
"Brown's analysis of Benito Cereno is the best I have seen...." --Joseph Schiffman, Critical Problems in Melville's Benito Cereno, Modern Language Quarterly volume 11 issue 3 (September 1950) pages 317-324 at page 323, footnote 23. 

Brown's The Negro in American Fiction is on Google Books
https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Negro_in_American_Fiction.html?id=rXhBAAAAIAAJ
and also available courtesy of HathiTrust Digital Library
https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.b4376173?urlappend=%3Bseq=20
Digitized images of this item (in the public domain under U.S. laws) are accessible via  NYPL Digital Collections. Citation:
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. "The Negro in American Fiction" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1937. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/f0a11c90-080b-0135-79ca-0d6aeeb931ad
Sterling A. Brown on Melville
The Negro in American Fiction page 11

Sterling A. Brown on Moby-Dick and "Benito Cereno"
The Negro in American Fiction page 12

Sterling A. Brown on "Benito Cereno"
The Negro in American Fiction page 13

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Toronto Globe notice of Moby-Dick

Looking for something else I finally ran across the favorable notice of Moby-Dick in the Toronto Globe. Reprinted by Hershel Parker in "Five Reviews Not in MOBY-DICK as Doubloon," English Language Notes (March 1972) pages 182-185 at 185. 

From The Globe (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 29, 1851: 
MOBY DICK, OR THE WHALE: by HERMAN MELVILLE; Author of Omoo, Typee, &c. New York, HARPER & BROTHERS. Toronto, A. H. ARMOUR & Co.

It is only necessary to say of this work that it is equal to any of Melville's former productions; by some it is thought even superior. This author is evidently not exhausted; he has yet stores within him untouched; although there is a close resemblance in his subjects, there is yet a difference in the handling, which gives constant variety. As a describer of the manners of the class of men he has chosen to depict, as a close observer and a striking limner of nature, Mr. Melville has few equals and no superiors among living authors, and there is a store of information upon all sorts of subjects, sacred and profane, landward and seaward, which surprises and delights one in a work of fiction. The volume is got up in capital style by Harper & Brothers. 

Disappointingly short on specifics, OK, but 100% positive. Put it on the board! Which ups the count of favorable reviews by one in our official 2020 Melvilliana census of reviews and notices of Moby-Dick1851-2.  

Here's the latest tally:

Grand Total = 116


  😍    79
  😬    20

 👍👎 17

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Confidence-Man in Yonkers

Here is a contemporary notice of The Confidence-Man from the Yonkers NY Examiner of April 16, 1857. This one turned up on Newspapers.com among digitized pages just added within the past month. 

Founded in 1856, The Examiner was published by Matthew F. Rowe (1829-1914), formerly editor of The Republican in Peekskill. Excerpts from this 1857 notice are given by Gary Scharnhorst in the second part of his two-part article, "Melville Bibliography 1846-1897: A Sheaf of Uncollected Excerpts, Notices and Reviews," Melville Society Extracts 75 (November 1988) pages 3-8 at page 7. It's listed as CM21 in the 1992 Checklist of Melville Reviews, edited by Kevin Hayes and Hershel Parker. Not reprinted in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, edited by Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

Thu, Apr 16, 1857 – 2 · Yonkers Examiner (Yonkers, New York) · Newspapers.com
THE CONFIDENCE-MAN: His Masquerade. By Herman Melville, author of "Typee," &c. 12 mo. Dix, Edwards & Co., New York.

That Melville is a man of genius is generally admitted by critics and by a large portion of the reading public. That his genius sometimes exhibits itself in eccentric and provoking shapes, his readers are all well aware. This "Confidence Man" has an air and manner which seems to imply the utmost "confidence" in his success; and in truth there is something to admire, or at least to wonder at, that the masquerade of and adventurer in various disguises, during a single trip on a Mississippi steamer, should suffice for the entire story which fills this good-looking volume of four hundred pages. It is true that on this slender thread the author has strung a good many shrewd and quaint observations on human nature and matters and things in general, but on the whole, although the book is readable enough it scarcely justifies the author's reputation.

Friday, September 11, 2020

H Melville in New York City

 Guest post by John M. J. Gretchko


Although an abbreviated H Melville, found as such in New York City newspapers, can echo the person of Herman Melville, one must be careful drawing an easy conclusion, since a couple of H Melvilles existed in mid-century New York. However, at least two instances of H. Melville point to Herman Melville. 

1846

New York Evening Express - July 11, 1846

On 11 July 1846 in “ARRIVALS AT THE CITY HOTELS” from the New York Evening Express, H. Melville of Lans, so abbreviated from Lansingburgh, was checked into Dunning’s Hotel at 66 Cortlandt Street (Ground Zero on 9/11), diagonally across from the house where Herman had been a child. The proprietor was Smith Dunning. At this time Herman was in town to receive cuts to the expurgated edition of Typee and to make revisions to it and possibly to collect $150 from Wiley and Putnam from his Typee account (Jay Leyda, The Melville Log Volume 1 pages 221-2). This H. Melville is undoubtedly Herman Melville, who may have been staying at Dunning’s for several days.

1862

In chapter 92 of Moby-Dick, “Ambergris,” Melville facetiously speaks of curing the dyspepsia of a whale by administering “three or four boatloads of Brandreth pills.” 

Brandreth's  Pills
National Museum of American History

Nine years later on 10 December 1860, Allan Melville, Herman’s brother, filed a complaint before the Supreme Court of the City and County of New York for plaintiffs Maunsell B. Field and Ward McLean, real estate brokers, against Benjamin Brandreth, famed and wealthy purveyor of purgative pills. (Field, also a lawyer, along with the illustrator Felix O. C. Darley had visited Herman at Arrowhead one summer in the early 1850s). 

via NYPL Digital Collections

Brandreth had employed Field and McLean to negotiate a loan for $155,000 secured by a mortgage for the Brandreth House, a first-class hotel, at 294 Canal Street and the intersection of Broadway, Canal, and Lispenard Streets in New York City. Plaintiffs agreed to accept one percent commission. But the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York, at first willing, declined to finance the loan, and Brandreth refused to pay the commission. But on 17 October 1862, Allan won the case for the plaintiffs against Brandreth, and the plaintiffs were paid their one percent and then some (case B-40). Curiously, an H. Melville of Massachusetts had checked into the Brandreth House the month before on 6 September 1862. 

New York Evening Express - September 6, 1862

Barring a weird coincidence, this H. Melville should be Herman. In Albany Peter Gansevoort had written in his diary that after tea on 4 September Herman had taken the boat for New York (Leyda, Melville Log Volume 2 page 654).

Hershel Parker comments in Herman Melville: A Biography Volume 2, 1851-1891 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), page 515: “What his purpose was in going is not known.” Had Allan sent Herman to inspect and assess the state of Brandreth’s collateral? If the hotel had deteriorated, then the failure of the loan was Brandreth’s fault. 

Brandreth House, as described in the 1866 directory, Miller's New York As It Is, or Stranger's Guide-Book on page 69: 
“The rooms are elegantly furnished---many of them in suites of communicating parlors and chambers, suitable for families and parties traveling together. Being kept on the European plan, guests may live in the most economical or luxurious manner. Meals served at all hours at the shortest notice.”