Tuesday, February 13, 2024

1885 check "endorsed by Herman Melville for deposit"

As previously shown on Melvilliana 
Herman Melville's 1885 poem The Admiral of the White, later printed in John Marr and Other Sailors (1888) as "The Haglets," was syndicated by Allen Thorndike Rice for publication in more newspapers than we knew, including the Cincinnati Times-StarAdmiral of the White appeared in the weekly edition of the Cincinnati Times-Star on May 21, 1885, "Copyrighted by Allen Thorndike Rice."

Today (Happy Mardi Gras y'all 🎉🎉🎉) I stumbled on a documentary record of what might well have been Melville's payment for the poem in the form of a check from "A. Rice" dated May 2, 1885 and "endorsed by Herman Melville for deposit." Said check (no longer extant?) was included as a signed Melville item with "Literary Letters and Manuscripts" in the auction catalog of Anderson Galleries for Sale Number 2298. A brief description appears on page 89 of the Anderson Galleries catalog, Autograph Collection of a Late American Author (New York, 1928). Listed as item #658, the check with Melville's signature was offered in the Third Session on December 4, 1928:

658 MELVILLE (HERMAN). Printed and written D. s., 1 p., oblong 8vo. New York. May 2, 1885. Check by A. Rice endorsed by Herman Melville for deposit. 

Less than two years later, the check resurfaced in the Plaza Art Galleries, Inc. catalog of Noted American and English authors of the last 150 years, in first editions from the library of Philo C. Calhoun. Evidently Bridgeport, Connecticut lawyer and book collector Philo Clarke Calhoun (1889-1964) had acquired the May 2, 1885 letter (at the 1928 Anderson auction?) and stuck it in the front of his highly collectible 1st edition of Moby-Dick, "Rare in any form, and particularly so in BLUE cloth."

Calhoun's first American edition of Moby-Dick is listed #320 in the Plaza Art Galleries catalog for "Public Sale No. 776," held on March 20 and 21, 1930. According to the description on page 44, the date of the attached cheque with Melville's signature is May 2, 1885, same as the date of the check described in the 1928 Anderson Galleries catalog.
"... Affixed to the inner front cover is a cheque dated May 2, 1885; bearing MELVILLE"S SIGNATURE as an endorsement. Melville autograph material is seldom met with."
The 1930 Plaza Art Galleries catalog does not name the issuer of the "cheque" that Melville endorsed, but it bears the identical date and thus would appear to be the same "check" from "A. Rice" described in the 1928 Anderson Galleries catalog. This "A. Rice" I take to be Allen Thorndike Rice who had arranged for the newspaper syndication of Melville's poem "The Admiral of the White" later on in May 1885. 

Allen Thorndike Rice was still paying authors by check in November. On November 29, 1885 Rice wrote a check for 120 dollars to author Harriet Prescott Spofford. Signed "A. T. Rice" and endorsed by Spofford on the back, this item is now in the Abernethy collection at Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives.

So now we at least have some reason to believe Rice paid Melville, and a better idea of when. Who knows how much? Or what happened to the physical check from Rice that Melville endorsed? If you now have or ever happen to see a 1st American edition of Moby-Dick in blue, take a look. 

Professor Longhair - Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Professor Longhair - They Call Me Dr Professor Longhair

"Well you know I know I'm not a Doctor,
But I wouldn't advise you to try to prove I'm not a Doctor's son...."

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Arrotino, Knife-Grinder aka The Listening Slave, Melville's "carved Roman slave" in MOBY-DICK chapter 126

What famous classical sculpture does Herman Melville invoke in Moby-Dick Chapter 126, the Life-Buoy when he or his narrator Ishmael compares the rapt attentiveness displayed by startled sailors to that of "the carved Roman slave"?
At last, when the ship drew near to the outskirts, as it were, of the Equatorial fishing-ground, and in the deep darkness that goes before the dawn, was sailing by a cluster of rocky islets; the watch—then headed by Flask—was startled by a cry so plaintively wild and unearthly—like half-articulated wailings of the ghosts of all Herod’s murdered Innocents—that one and all, they started from their reveries, and for the space of some moments stood, or sat, or leaned all transfixedly listening, like the carved Roman slave, while that wild cry remained within hearing. 

-- Moby-Dick Chapter 126, The Life-Buoy

Melville's use here of the definite article (the not a) indicates one specific work, evidently a marble statue of some kind, or bust, although the object is not further particularized. I take this work of art to be real and pretty well-known, famous enough that Melville could expect readers to recognize it with minimal descriptive fussing on his part. The biggest clue to the thing he means is conveyed in the main point of comparison between sailors and the marble slave, their shared attitude as rapt listeners. As Ishmael relates, upon hearing an eerie cry in the dark, "plaintively wild and unearthly," the whale-men on watch froze like statues. For a time they remained stationary, "transfixedly listening, like the carved Roman slave." Via Ishmael's simile, Melville thus compares the crew's motionless bewitchment to that exhibited by an apparently familiar work of visual art.  Although unnamed, whichever "carved Roman slave" Melville had in mind is introduced in the Life-Buoy chapter of Moby-Dick as a model of eternally attentive listening.

In his end-notes for the 1972 Penguin edition of Moby-Dick, Harold Beaver suggested that Melville's "carved Roman slave" might designate "the 'Dying Gaul' often called the 'Dying Gladiator.'" Online, the Melville Electronic Library offers a textual note that makes similarly tentative connections to the famous Dying Gaul or Dying Gladiator in the Capitoline Museum. In earlier writings (Mardi and White-Jacket) Melville had referred specifically to the Dying Gladiator, so clearly he knew of it. But the sculpture alluded to in Moby-Dick has a characteristic, fixed expression of listening (Melville's word) that the suffering figure of the Gaul manifestly lacks. Mortally wounded, the fallen warrior looks downward, however intently. In his sad condition the Dying Gaul or Gladiator is always dying, rather than listening. 

The far more likely candidate for Melville's "carved Roman slave" is the well-known sculpture at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence called the Arrotino or  Knife-Grinder, also known as "The Scythian." Both the statue and a place Melville might have seen it in some form before writing Moby-Dick have been positively identified by Hershel Parker in a footnote to Chapter 126 for the 3rd Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick, on page 376:

"In London, Melville could have seen a cast of this famous statue, which is in the Tribune of the Uffizi Museum, in Florence, Italy."

Melville had visited London and the Continent in 1849-1850.

The sculpture is well described by Cristiana Barandoni on the Uffizi Galleries website:

The sculpture, sold by the Mignanelli family to Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici, and was bought to Florence in 1677 and placed on display in the Tribune, where it can still be seen. It is known as the “Arrotino” and shows a kneeling man who is sharpening a knife on a stone. The man, who has long eyebrows, recessed pupils and swollen eyelids, is looking upwards, his forehead marked with deep frown lines. The semi-naked figure, wearing a light cloak over his right shoulder, was initially thought to be a Scythian, or even a royal barber plotting against the state. In the 16th century, the idea was put forward that the sculpture could be part of a group depicting the flaying of Marsyas. The figure was therefore identified as a slave, preparing the blade used to torture the satyr. 


Joseph Addison, in frequently reprinted Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, influentially described the Arrotino as "the Roman Slave whetting his Knife and listening." Then as now, the sculpture was exhibited in the Tribune, Uffizi Gallery with other world-famous works including the celebrated Medici Venus, Dancing Faun or Dancing Satyr, and Wrestlers:

In the same Chamber is the Roman Slave whetting his Knife and listening, which from the Shoulders upward is incomparable. The two Wrestlers are in the same Room.

Guidebooks of Melville's time noted that the Arrotino was 

"called also the Knife-grinder and the Listening Slave
-- Italy by Josiah Conder Volume 3 (London, 1834) page 373.

Melville and his contemporary readers took the sculpted Arrotino for a "Roman slave," as Addison had called him. In England and also America the carved figure was called "The Listening Slave." Considered together with "Roman slave," this formerly popular but now forgotten name for the Knife-Grinder perfectly explains Melville's choice of words in the Life-Buoy chapter, when Ishmael depicts startled sailors as "transfixedly listening" and then compares them in that regard to the statue of a Roman slave known as 


Shown below, the figure of "The Listening Slave" as illustrated on the front page of the Saturday Magazine Supplement in February 1842:

The Listening Slave 
(From the Antique Statue in the Royal Gallery of Florence.)

Architect James Hakewill noted the popularity of the "Listening Slave" title in England: 

... the Arrotino, or the Grinder, commonly known in England under the name of the Listening Slave, has been supposed by some to have been raised in honour of a slave who detected the secret machinations of the Catilinarian conspiracy. Nothing however is really known relative to the original design of the artist, but its taste and execution are such as seem worthy of the best sculptors of Greece.  -- A Picturesque Tour of Italy  

In New York City, the National Academy of Design owned a reproduction they called "The Listening Slave," listed as #166 in the 1846 Catalogue of Statues, Busts, Studies, Etc. Forming the Collection of the Antique School.

If he never saw a copy of "The Listening Slave" in Manhattan, or London, Melville eventually got to view the original in Florence. At the Uffizi on March 26, 1857 Melville was "not pleased with the Venus de Medici" but "very much astonished at the Wrestlers" he would have seen in the Tribune gallery. He must have examined the Arrotino there, too, one of numerous other works of art he regarded as "Idle to enumerate" after repeated tours of the Uffizi Galleries. Documented in Melville's Journal of a Visit to Europe and the Levant, edited by Howard C. Horsford (Princeton University Press, 1955) page 218; also the 1989 Northwestern-Newberry edition of Melville's Journals, edited by Horsford with Lynn Horth, page 115.

Tribuna uffizi
Whether or not Melville ever read John Thomas James on Italian sculpture, the effect of Ishmael's freezing sailors in a momentary state of "transfixedly listening" like the Listening Slave accords well with the aesthetic of "picturesqueness" as the Rev. James developed it in The Italian Schools of Painting; with Observations on the present State of the Art (London, 1820): 
"As to picturesqueness of character, or that quality which is best suited to a picture, there has been so much already written, and though not very conclusively, yet so well, on the subject, that it is a fearful matter to touch upon it again. One point, however, may be adverted to, as being that, which will be found in a great degree conducive to this end. If we investigate with attention the works of the ancient sculptors, we shall discover a peculiarity in their practice, which has not been generally noticed, and this regards the time of action selected by them as fittest for their purpose. It is never the middle of an action that is represented, but in every example a momentary pause, or suspension of motion: and this, it will be seen, may be so chosen, as to give the fullest perception of all that has immediately preceded, or, in other words, to tell the story. Thus the Apollo Belvedere is not exhibited as if in the act of shooting; but the arrow is already gone, and he rests for a moment, following its flight with his eye: even the figure of the Laocoon is not represented actually in motion, but the moment given is the end of one of the paroxysms of his agony, when he is for a while fixed: the same may be observed in the fighting gladiator, in the listening slave, and all the greatest works of 
This principle may be applied most strictly also to painting, and we shall observe the same momentary pause of action to have been purposely selected by all the great masters of design. A figure of Raffael, or M. Angelo, &c. is never drawn as if actually moving; but the point taken is during a momentary stagnation of action, or while they are for an instant rapt, if the phrase may be allowed."

In the manner of Raffael, Michelangelo, or the unknown sculptor who made the carved Roman slave variously called the Arrotino, Knife-Grinder, or Listening Slave, Melville drew his whalemen during a pause when, hearing the crying of young seals nearby, probably, they were (to apply the formulation of ideal picturesqueness offered in 1820 by J. T. James) "for an instant rapt."

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Melville's "Athenian admirer" quoted in Cincinnati

On the day of Herman Melville's lecture on "Statues in Rome" (Tuesday, February 2, 1858) the Cincinnati Daily Commercial promoted it with a column mostly devoted to effusive praise for Melville's books, including Moby-Dick, by an unidentified "Athenian admirer." By "Athenian" I take the Cincinnati editor to mean a fellow newspaper editor, journalist, or correspondent from Athens, Ohio. The article was excerpted by Jay Leyda in The Melville Log, Volume 2, leaving out some good parts about Fayaway, Omoo, and Mardi. Found on NewspaperArchive and transcribed in full below, the original event teaser as it appeared in the Cincinnati Daily Commercial on February 2, 1858: 

Cincinnati Daily Commercial
February 2, 1858

"STATUES IN ROME." -- Herman Melville, "who," said an enthusiastic Athenian admirer of his beautiful writings-- "entranced the American public by the freshness and mellow style of his South Sea adventures in the coral islanded world; who made the name of Fayaway a synonyme for native grace; who roamed and sailed and laughed with Doctor Long Ghost of Omoo memory; who drew his moonlit, mystic picture of Mardi, through which as through a mist-like atmosphere float the forms of Yillah, the shadowy maiden, Yoomy the equally shadowy poet, Babbalanja the dreaming philosopher with his flexible cloud-wreath pipe, 'and others more'--very nomines umbra--shadows of a shade; who dazed us still more with the white gleam of Moby Dick, through whose five hundred weird pages 'all thoughts, all passions, feelings and delights,' chase each other 'like shadows o'er the plain'--and in whom we have the wildest and strangest mysticism, mingled with the frankest and freshest common sense and practical knowledge of the world and its ways, and the truest, most genuine American Democratic feeling"--will appear to-night before a Cincinnati audience to discourse in the lectorium (Smith & Nixon's Hall,) of the Young Men's Mercantile Library Association upon the Statuary of Rome. Mr. Melville's lectures are said to be admirably written, but none of our exchanges discourse upon the style of his delivery. If he would avoid the objection usually urged against our lecturers, he will speak distinctly, and with animation, that all may hear. The public is extremely desirous to see and hear Mr. Melville, and anticipate a rich literary repast this evening. 


In commending Moby-Dick the Athenian quotes from the opening stanza of Love by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, alternatively titled Love; or, Genevieve

All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame.

and Psalm 39 Part 2 as given in a popular hymn by Isaac Watts: 

See the vain race of mortals move
Like shadows o'er the plain,
They rage and strive, desire and love,
But all their noise is vain. -- Psalms and Hymns of Dr. Watts

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Melvilliana: Clement C. Moore's published letter on his authors...

Seven years ago today in the microfilm reading room at NYPL I found the published letter from Clement C. Moore affirming his authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" ("'Twas the night before Christmas"). Writing on Feb. 27, 1844 to the editor of the New York American, Moore explained that he wrote the Christmas poem "not for publication, but to amuse my children." 

Melvilliana: Clement C. Moore's published letter on his authorship...: Good news at The New York Public Library ! Yesterday on microfilm (*ZY 86-140 Reel 17 Mar 1-Dec 28, 1844) of the New York American...