in case you need one for the virtual 2021 Moby-Dick Marathon...
Friday, January 8, 2021
Thursday, December 31, 2020
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
Santa Claus Worldwide: A History of St. Nicholas and Other Holiday Gift-Bringers by Tom A. Jerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Santa Claus Worldwide distills the cheerful essence of Christmas from many sources and studies, old and new. In addition to his wide reading, author Tom A. Jerman has brought a wealth of personal experience and knowledge as a collector to the task of synthesizing the history and often bewildering variety of holiday gift-bringers. Jerman helpfully surveys ancient traditions (Roman Saturnalia) and models (Wotan/Odin, for example), as well as Christian figures like the Christkindl and myriad incarnations of jolly old St. Nick. Several chapters also offer new takes on familiar themes of previous Santa-studies. Of special interest to me in that regard are separate chapters on Washington Irving and the illustrated verses on "Old Santeclaus" as uniquely published in the 1821 Children's Friend. Without denying evident traces of Irving's comic History of New York on Clement C. Moore's iconic poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," Jerman challenges the influential conspiracy theory that a few wealthy New Yorkers "invented" the American Santa Claus. With a collector's understanding of folklore and a lawyer's flair for arguing, Jerman makes a persuasive case for the historical-cultural evolution of Santa Claus, outside of and independent from any particular construction of Manhattan elites. This view expressly builds on previous work by Phyllis Siefker in Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men (1997; 2006) and Gerry Bowler in Christmas in the Crosshairs (2016). Chapter 19 pays extra and well-deserved attention to William B. Gilley and illustrator Arthur J. Stansbury as co-creators of "Old Santeclaus."
I'm already finding this book valuable to have as a basic reference work when doing my own archival research. For instance, lately I discovered an 1841 newspaper reprinting of "A Visit from St Nicholas" with the alternative title, "Old Belsnickle." Say what? Well, as helpfully explained in several chapters (especially 3, 8, and 16), this Belsnickle or furry Nicholas has to be the Americanized Pelznickle, one of many protestant German gift-givers. Kriss Kringle similarly derives from the German Christkindl.
Santa Claus Worldwide fairly revels in the rich diversity of figures that symbolize and stimulate winter gift-giving. And it's loaded with wonderful pictures, too. I'm sure this exceptionally useful and readable volume of holiday history will make a great gift for 21st century Santas and Santa lovers everywhere.
Sunday, December 27, 2020
Saturday, November 28, 2020
|Lord Brougham in training for the opening of Parliament.|
via NYPL Digital Collections
From the Louisville Daily Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), October 3, 1855:
PUTNAM’S MONTHLY FOR OCTOBER.—The October number of Putnam is a worthy representative of American periodical literature. Its contents are finely varied and are creditable specimens of substantial, instructive, and interesting literature….
... The story of “Benito Cereno” opens well, but rather hangs fire toward the close of its first part. But a lively denoument may redeem it.—There is interest ahead in it.The expression hang fire is a military metaphor for delayed action, like delayed ignition of gunpowder in firearms. To "hang fire" means
"to be slow in communicating, as fire in the pan of a gun to the charge."-- Noah Webster, 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language
In the 1855 magazine version of "Benito Cereno," the first installment closes with Melville's Delano musing on the possibly treacherous intentions of Don Benito. Delano fears the Spanish captain might be a murderous pirate. The American wavers, but his generous and trusting nature overcomes suspicion of a sinister plot against his life. Melville's narrative powder finally fires in the third installment, after Benito Cereno jumps into Delano's boat.
Another Kentucky reviewer had no expectation of an exciting finish in store. From the Louisville Daily Democrat, October 4, 1855:
"Benito Cereno," a tale, begun in the present issue, is a fanciful production, not having any great interest--very little force--and rather prosy. Some of the sentences are almost Broughamic in their length, indistinctness, and general construction.
Broughamic alludes to the discursive debating style of Henry Peter Brougham, the eminent Whig reformer and abolitionist who helped establish the Edinburgh Review. In 1828 Brougham delivered the longest speech ever in House of Commons, over six hours.Courtesy of Google Books, Melville's "Benito Cereno" as it originally appeared in Putnam's Monthly Magazine Volume 6:
- October 1855
- November 1855
- December 1855
- Malay pirates in Benito Cereno and Trelawny
Monday, November 23, 2020
Guest post by John M. J. Gretchko
From the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer via Mexicolore
A One-footed or One-legged American God
Herman Melville explored the mythologies of many nations, from India to Egypt to classical Greece and Rome. Would he have ignored North American mythology? Chapter 36 “The Quarter-deck” of Moby-Dick suggests he may have significantly dabbled in it.
“Did you fixedly gaze, too, upon that ribbed and dented brow; there also, you would see still stranger foot-prints--the foot-prints of his one unsleeping ever-pacing thought”-- Moby-Dick Northwestern-Newberry Edition page 160.
The grandiose work, Antiquities of Mexico (1831-48) by Lord Kingsborough in nine monstrous volumes, each a labor to lift, holds drawings of this one-footed god from the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, shown with an amputated right foot or leg. The Literary World of 7 April 1849 discloses that the Astor Library had acquired all nine volumes. Unfortunately Tezcatlipoca is not so identified in the text of Antiquities, nor do these volumes tell his story.
The manuscript Codex is held by the World Museum Liverpool.https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/E_Am1902-0111-1 is accessible
“Thunder is used for lightning, or for a thunder-bolt, either originally through ignorance, or by way of metaphor, or because the lightning and thunder are closely united.”
Back in chapter 36, with a storm approaching, Ahab warns, “Stand up amid the general hurricane, thy one tost sapling cannot, Starbuck” (N-N page 164). Is Ahab alluding also to himself, as a metaphoric hurricane? Could the image of one sapling metaphorically represent or suggest a leg?
"both one-legged and a causer of hurricanes."
Burland, C. A. and Werner Forman. Feathered Serpent and Smoking Mirror. New York: Putnam, 1975.
Humboldt, Alexander von. Researches Concerning the Institutions and Monuments of the Ancient Inhabitants of America. Trans. Helen Maria Williams. 2 vols. London, 1814.
Kingsborough, Edward King, Viscount. Antiquities of Mexico: comprising fac-similes of ancient Mexican paintings and hieroglyphics. 9 vols. London, 1833-48.
Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick; or, the Whale. Edited by Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Volume 6 of The Writings of Herman Melville. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library, 1988.
Olivier, Guilhem. Mockeries and Metamorphoses of an Aztec God:Tezcatlipoca, “Lord of the Smoking Mirror.” Trans. Michel Besson. Boulder: U P of Colorado, 2008.
Séjorné, Laurette. Burning Water: Thought and Religion in Mexico. Translated by Irene Nicholson. Berkeley: Shambala, 1976.
Spence, Lewis. The Gods of Mexico. London: Unwin, 1923.
Tedlock, Dennis, translator and commentator. Popul Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life. Revised edition. New York: Touchstone, 1996.