Monday, January 30, 2012

Scoresby's crow's nest, Melvillized

Still looking at Melville's rewrite of Scoresby in chapter 35 of Moby-Dick.  After finding another example there of Melville's use of "owing to" when revising a source, I thought it would be fun to compare more of Scoresby and Melville, setting the original and rewrite side by side.  Here goes then...

Source:  
William Scoresby, An Account of the Arctic Regions vol. 2 (Edingurgh and London, 1820), 304-205.

Melville's rewrite of Scoresby shown below within brackets, in bold blue from
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851), chapter 35.
... A piece of canvas tied round the head of the main-top-mast, and heel of the top-gallant-mast, extending only from the cap to the cross trees, or at best a canvas stretched round the base of the top-gallant rigging, but open on the after part, was the most complete contrivance of a crow's nest, until a few years ago, when my Father invented an apparatus, having the appearance of a rostrum, [enviable little tents or pulpits, called crow's-nests] which afforded an admirable defence against the wind....The form is cylindrical; open above and close below.  [In shape, the Sleet's crow's-nest is something like a large tierce or pipe; it is open above, however, where it is furnished with a movable sidescreen to keep to windward of your head in a hard gale.] ...The entrance is by a trap-hatch at the bottom. It is fixed on the very summit of the main-top-gallant mast, from whence the prospect on every side is unimpeded. [Being fixed on the summit of the mast, you ascend into it through a little trap-hatch in the bottom.] On the after side is a seat, with a place beneath for a flag. In other parts are receptacles for a speaking trumpet, telescope, and occasionally for a rifle piece*, with utensils for loading. [On the after side, or side next the stern of the ship, is a comfortable seat, with a locker underneath for umbrellas, comforters, and coats. In front is a leather rack, in which to keep your speaking trumpet, pipe, telescope, and other nautical conveniences.For the more effectual shelter of the observer, when in an erect posture, a moveable screen is applied to the top on the windward side, which increases the height so much as effectually to shield his head. [paraphrased already, above, "where it is furnished with a movable sidescreen to keep to windward of your head in a hard gale."]  When the ship is tacked, nothing more is necessary for retaining the complete shelter, than shifting the screen to the opposite side, which is done in an instant.

*[Scoresby's footnote:] The rifle has been occasionally used for shooting narwhales: when fired at from the deck, it is almost impossible to kill them, partly on account of the resistance of the water, which the ball must pass through, and partly on account of the deception in their position, produced by the refractive property of the water. Shooting from the mast head nearly perpendicularly downwards, in a great measure obviates both these inconveniences.  [rewritten by Melville as follows:  "When Captain Sleet in person stood his mast-head in this crow's-nest of his, he tells us that he always had a rifle with him (also fixed in the rack), together with a powder flask and shot, for the purpose of popping off the stray narwhales, or vagrant sea unicorns infesting those waters; for you cannot successfully shoot at them from the deck owing to the resistance of the water, but to shoot down upon them is a very different thing."]

nuts and bolts of rewriting from sources: "owing to"


Some years back I began to scrutinize Melville's mechanics of revision. One thing I noticed was how much Melville liked to use "owing to" when rewriting his sources.  He evidently favored this device especially for explaining causes and supplying missing information.  Significantly, owing to occurs repeatedly in works where Melville is borrowing heavily from known sources, at least 13x in "Benito Cereno" and 17x in Israel Potter.

So, having taken the trouble to document some uses of owing to in my 2006 conference paper on traces of Melville in "Scenes Beyond the Western Border," I got a kick out of predicting then confirming another one in chapter 35 of Moby-Dick.  Easily amused, that's me alright.

Ishmael's comic take, or take-off, on the crow's nest of Captain Sleet is based on a passage in vol. 2 of William Scoresby's Account of the Arctic Regions.  Melville's debt to Scoresby for the comic bit on Sleet's crow's nest was first demonstrated by Frederick B. Adams, Jr., in Colophon (Autumn 1936).  In The Trying-Out of Moby-Dick Howard Vincent (citing Adams) comments:
Melville pounced upon Scoresby's long, prideful account, parodying its pedantry as well as its piety, its over-particularity.  Even without knowledge of the parody, one enjoys the mockery of Melville's paragraphs, but an awareness of the parodic intent, hidden to all but the source hunter or the student of whaling, enhances one's relish of the humor.  (159)
Now I did not have the Colophon article by Adams, but reading the above in Vincent prompted me to look closer at the text of Melville's parody in Moby-Dick.  Looking then in at Melville's re-write of Scoresby in chapter 35 I encountered that phrase again:
When Captain Sleet in person stood his mast-head in this crow's-nest of his, he tells us that he always had a rifle with him (also fixed in the rack), together with a powder flask and shot, for the purpose of popping off the stray narwhales, or vagrant sea unicorns infesting those waters; for you cannot successfully shoot at them from the deck owing to the resistance of the water, but to shoot down upon them is a very different thing.  (Classic Reader)
Mind you, it was only because of my earlier investigations that I even noticed "owing to."  I had not yet looked up the original source for the passage in Scoresby.  But seeing "owing to" again and recognizing it as a favorite device, I had a strong hunch it was Melville's contribution.  Next step, find the source in Scoresby, which I did at Google Books.

And (drum roll please).... Voila!  Here it is, in a footnote:
 The rifle has been occasionally used for shooting narwhales: when fired at from the deck, it is almost impossible to kill them, partly on account of the resistance of the water, which the ball must pass through, and partly on account of the deception in their position, produced by the refractive property of the water. Shooting from the mast head nearly perpendicularly downwards, in a great measure obviates both these inconveniences.  (Scoresby, Account of the Arctic Regions, vol. 2, p205)
 Yep, owing to is all Melville's doing. Melville likes "owing to" so much he has to change Scoresby's perfectly fine "on account of," while keeping "the resistance of the water."  Cool, huh?

Also Melville's (while we're at it) are
popping off (instead of tedious "shooting")
and
the stray in "stray narwhales"

UPDATE:
more additions by to his source in Scoresby, along with "vagrant sea unicorns" for narwhales:

"infesting"
and
"a very different thing"

And for more on Scoresby, check out the Melvilliana post on Scoresby's crow's nest Melvillized

Friday, January 13, 2012

Divine Hafiz

"What could Pierre write of his own on Love or any thing else, that would surpass what divine Hafiz wrote so many long centuries ago?"  (Pierre)

Hither bring the wine, boy! hither bring the wine, boy!
For the season approaches, the season of joy.
Let us frolic and revel 'midst gardens and bowers,
Since the roses now bud, and the season is ours.
Let the vows of repentance religion has made,
Be forgotten, and broken beneath the cool shade:
Let us warble, like nightingales, through the gay grove,
And, imbedded in roses, here nestle in love.
Come, replenish, replenish the goblet with wine,
For of happiness lo! the sweet rose is the sign:
While she ripens and blows, your enjoyments pursue,
For anon she will wither and bid us adieu.
To the shade then where roses embowering twine,
Come, repair, quick repair, with thy friend, and with wine;
Let oblivious enjoyment there banish distress,
Whilst we warble, like nightingales, 'midst the recess.

'Tis from HAFIZ the rose claims her tribute of praise,
Let him prostrate before her his soul in soft lays,
Let him bow down his head to the dust at her shrine,
And in strains like the nightingale's hail her divine.

--paraphrase by John Hodden Hindley, Persian Lyrics
(London, 1800)

Friday, January 6, 2012

"Pity's Tear," not by Melville

Warren F. Broderick found five poems signed "H" in the Democratic Press and Lansingburgh Advertiser, published by that newspaper in 1838 and 1839. Broderick's article announcing the discovery ("Melville's First Five Poems?," Extracts 92, March 1993) is available in the online archives of Melville Society Extracts. Since Herman Melville did publish two "Fragments from a Writing Desk" sketches in the Democratic Press in 1839, it has seemed reasonable to conjecture that H. Melville may have submitted these "H" poems to his hometown newspaper.


But the first of the five "H" poems, "Pity's Tear," is definitely not by Melville. A search in Google Books reveals the rightful author as Mary Darby Robinson (1758-1800). Robinson's poem Pity's Tear shows up in volume two of The Poetical Works of the Late Mrs. Mary Robinson, 3 vols. (London, 1806) at pp. 254-255. Lansingburgh's "H" could have found Robinson's poem reprinted in the posthumous London collection, or in an American newspaper or literary magazine, for example The Rural Visiter (Burlington, New Jersey), 1811, where "Pity's Tear" appeared unattributed in the August number of the first volume.