Friday, August 18, 2017

Typee in Baltimore

OUR BOOK TABLE. "Typee; a residence in the Marquesas--by Herman Melville." This is No. xiii and xiv of Wiley & Putnam's Library of American Books, and gives a very interesting account of the Island, by one that resided there several years. The sketches of the manners, customs and superstitions of the people, are free, graceful and entertaining. Taylor & Co. have the work.

Annual Berkshires hike marks a literary moment

Annual Berkshires hike marks a literary moment

Battle-Pieces in the Detroit Free Press

Henry N. Walker
1854 portrait by Alvah Bradish via Detroit Institute of Arts
Henry Nelson Walker was owner and editor of the Detroit Free Press when this unsigned review of Battle-Pieces appeared on September 2, 1866.
BATTLE PIECES, by Herman Melville. Harper & Bros, New York. For sale by W. E. Tunis.

Some years ago Adelaide Ann Proctor, daughter of the celebrated Barry Cornwall, published a sober crown volume of legends and lyrics: and, with the natural modesty of a woman, and the becoming diffidence of a poet, she entitled it "A Book of Verses." The reviewers, when deciding on its worth, pronounced the so-called verses poems—not all, however, for there is chaff in the finest wheat; but still, they acknowledged that the merits of the greater number of the pieces ranked very high—rising from the table-land of the versified commonplace to the Parnassian heights of lyrical song.

Mr. Melville, we are glad to see, has shown the same good taste in collecting his verses, and entitled them, "Battle Pieces—for, however musical in rhythm, chaste in tone, elevated in sentiment, and unexceptionable in point of polish and expression, some of his verses are, they lack the very elements and essentials that constitute poems. There can be no doubt that these "Battle Pieces" have been wrought with studious care—perhaps with painful study—and yet the result is mostly only a kind of jingling prose, bearing about the same relation to the genuine thing as Martin Tupper's "Proverbial Philosophy" to a page of Milton's "Paradise Lost."

The main fault in the author's versified writings is the frequent recurrence of the trite, so artfully interwoven with odd trappings of metaphor, as to impose on the superficial reader: leading him to accept as poetic thought what is in reality only pretty verse. At the same time, we must do justice to certain dormant powers that give us occasionally an example of what he might do when the higher mood is on him, when the desire to "ring out the false," tinseled and gilt thought has subsided, and the passion "to ring in the true" is evoked and evinced. Among the few really natural and poetic ebullitions of his fancy we may include the following on "Stonewall Jackson:"
The man who fiercest charged in fight,
    Whose sword and prayer were long—
   Even he who stoutly stood for wrong.
How can we praise? Yet coming days
   Shall not forget him with this song.

Dead is the man whose cause is dead,
   Vainly he died and set his seal—
   Earnest in error, as we feel;
True to the thing he dreamed was due,
   True as John Brown or steel.

Relentlessly he routed us:
   But we relent, for he is low—
   Justly his fame we outlaw; so
We drop a tear on the bold Virginian's bier,
   Because no wreath we owe.
The occasion which gave birth to our war poetry has glorified much of it beyond all desert, and the great portion, like Mr. Melville's "Battle Pieces," will therefore be enshrined among those little valueless relics which we treasure more for their memories than their intrinsic value.

Review of Melville's Battle-Pieces (1 of 2)
Review of Battle-Pieces (2 of2)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Moby-Dick in the Detroit Free Press

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Not in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, this brief but flattering notice assigns to Moby-Dick the subtitle of Harry Martingale (1848):
"The adventures of a whaleman."
From the Detroit Free Press, November 21, 1851:
MOBY DICK.--The adventures of a whaleman. by Herman Mellville, author of Typee. Harper & Bros.--This peculiarly piquant narrative, reminds one forcibly of the earlier productions of the author. Its stirring scenes and adventures on the bosom of the broad Pacific, will be the life of the forecastle, on many a stormy night,
"When winds are piping high,"
and for landsmen also, will possess a peculiar charm.
For sale by McFarren. 

Forthcoming: The Whale

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Herman Mellville's forthcoming book is announced by the Harpers. Its title is simply "The Whale." It will be published in octavo. --New York Evening Post, October 4, 1851

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Romance of whaling, "in the days before petroleum"

"There is no longer any interest in the subject. It was not possible for any one to say anything worth reading or listening to after Herman Melville's yarns. His "Omoo" and "White Jacket" were the last romances of the sea. Richard H. Dana, Jr., exhausted the field of "before the mast," and Melville left nothing for anybody to tell about whaling."
--Review of Nimrod of the Sea, Brooklyn Daily Union, September 8, 1874
 The Brooklyn Daily Union - September 8, 1874
By contrast, and with no thought of Moby-Dick, the Christian Watchman praised Nimrod of the Sea as "a graphically-told narrative of daring exploits" and "a deeply interesting account of the nature and habits of the whale, of the methods employed for his capture, and of the uses which he is made to serve."
A bright boy, in the reading of the book, will not fail to gather a vast deal of new information in respect to the sea and its wondrous forms of life. Scattered through it are many spirited pictures representing the perilous circumstances which surround the intrepid sailors in their attacks upon the whale." --Christian Watchman [Boston], September 10, 1874
The New York Herald (September 28, 1874) described the author William M. Davis as "one of those hardy Long Island mariners who sailed for the whale in the days before petroleum."

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So far, the 1874 review of Nimrod of the Sea in the Brooklyn Daily Union is the only contemporary notice I have found that recalls Moby-Dick. However, in the same year, the review of "Jules Verne's Romances" in the Wilmington Daily Commercial favorably compares the "vein of poetry and romantic mystery" in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea with that of Moby-Dick:
But a mere fantasy, an intellectual whim, must not be carried too far, lest in the process of attenuation it should break. M. Verne touches the limit nicely in "Twenty Thousand Leagues," and that book remains his best because in addition to its audacity and wealth of invention it had a vein of poetry and romantic mystery running through it. In those respects it resembled Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," in which the practical details of whale-fishing are relieved by a fine play of the imagination.  --Wilmington [Delaware] Daily Commercial, November 4, 1874
The Nantucket Historical Association has whaling journals by William Morris Davis in 1834-1837. According to the catalog description, Log 354 ("Journal of a man before the mast or on board the Whale Ship Chelsea of New London") was "Used in preparation of William M. Davis 'Nimrod of the Sea or The American Whaleman' (Harper 1874)."

As Caleb Crain has observed, some elements in Davis's description of sperm-squeezing in Nimrod of the Sea resemble Melville's treatment of the same operation in chapter 94 of Moby-Dick. For instance, Melville imagines himself "in a Constantine's bath" of sperm, while Davis experiences a more luxurious "bath" than ever did "Solomon in all  his glory." I would like to know if and how Davis describes the operation of squeezing sperm in manuscript. And everything else, for that matter. It could be a rewarding project to compare manuscript and book versions throughout, to see what kind of rewriting was involved in 1872, and how much. Possibly the style of Moby-Dick in places influenced the editing or rewriting of Nimrod of the Sea. Obviously, Nimrod as published in 1874 could not have influenced Moby-Dick (1851), unless somehow Melville had access to "oil-stained" whaling logs of the Chelsea by William Morris Davis (1815-1891).

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Melville's "noble lines to Stonewall Jackson" in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser

Stonewall Jackson, sketch from life
via The New York Public Library Digital Collections
BATTLE PIECES AND ASPECTS OF THE WAR BY HERMAN MELVILLE. New York: Harper & Brothers. For sale by Breed, Butler & Co. Those who are fond of Melville's writings, and they are many, will doubtless desire to possess his poems. They are suggested by events of the late war, and are generally descriptive. We have but little space for criticism or quotation, but cannot refrain from giving two stanzas from his noble lines to Stonewall Jackson:
But who shall hymn the Roman heart?
   A stoic he, but even more;
The iron will and lion thew
   Were strong to inflict as to endure:
       Who like him could stand or pursue?
       His fate the fatalist followed through;
       In all his great soul found to do
          Stonewall followed his star.
*          *          *          *
O, much of doubt in after days
   Shall cling, as now, to the war
Of the right and the wrong they'll still debate
   Puzzled by Stonewall's star:
      "Fortune went with the North elate"
      "Aye, but the South had Stonewall's weight
      And he fell in the South's vain war."
--Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, September 11, 1866
The notice of Battle-Pieces transcribed above appeared in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser on September 11, 1866. At that time the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser was edited and published by James Newson Matthews and James D. Warren. But Matthews was then in Dublin, getting ready to sail home after the European vacation that he narrated in editorial correspondence for the Commercial Advertiser, published in book form as My Holiday: How I Spent It (Buffalo and New York, 1867). The brief notice of Battle-Pieces may have been written by Warren, later a model of the "stalwart" Republican.

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