Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Rumor of Pierre: January 20, 1852

Speaking of Pierre, here is a knowing announcement from the Buffalo [New York] Daily Courier, Tuesday Morning, January 20, 1852:
LITERARY.—Late New York papers contain the following notices of American writers: Washington Irving is in the city of new York on the business of the Cooper Monument Committee, preparing the celebration at which Bryant is to deliver the oration. Nathaniel Hawthorne has exchanged the ice and snows of Lenox for a shelter at Newton, near Boston. Herman Melville, at Pittsfield, is said to be engaged on a new work, soon to be issued by the Harpers….
Knowing yet somewhat premature, in the event. Well, even with the late angry additions it was all ready to go by mid-April, but Melville's unsuccessful wrangling with London publisher Richard Bentley delayed matters until the book actually came out in late July 1852.

Wonder which NY papers had this item and the Hawthorne news first, and when.

Orville Dewey repeated Lowell lectures on Human Destiny in New York City, January-February 1852

The New York Public Library Digital Collections
UPDATE: Links are now provided below to the New York Daily Tribune articles on Orville Dewey's lecture series, where I found them in the database of Historical American Newspapers at the great Library of Congress Chronicling America site.

So Orville Dewey repeated his popular Lowell lectures on Human Destiny at the Church of the Messiah on Broadway in New York City.

In October and November 1851 Orville Dewey had lectured on The Problem of Human Destiny to full houses at the Lowell Institute in Boston. Hershel Parker gives the dates in Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative, courtesy of Dennis Marnon:
“Dewey delivered 12 lectures on successive Tuesday and Thursday nights late in 1851: Oct. 21 and 23, Oct. 28 and 30, Nov. 4 and 6, November 11 and 13, Nov. 18 and 20, Nov. 25 and 28.”
As Parker shows in his Herman Melville: A Biography V2 and, with Brian Higgins, Reading Melville's Pierre, the unmistakable influence of Dewey and his popular lecture title shows up in Book 17 of Melville's Pierre, when the young hero receives an obsequiously written request to lecture on "Human Destiny." Higgins and Parker date the parody of Dewey's chosen subject to January 1852, when
"Melville remembered the pomposity and arrogance of the title of Dewey's lecture series and wrote the lecture title "Human Destiny" into his book as the ne plus ultra of fatuousness." --Reading Melville's Pierre - page 15
No doubt Melville knew of Dewey's popular Lowell lectures in Boston. Coolly practical Falsgrave and Plinlimmon both probably owe something to Dewey (Higgins and Parker 14-17). That dig at Dewey's lectures on "Human Destiny" occurs in the first chapter that Melville seems to have added in anger after a big fight with his friend Evert Duyckinck, in early January.

Still, the timing of Dewey's repeat performances in New York suggestively coincides with Melville's latest additions and revisions to the manuscript of Pierre--completed before February 20, 1852 when his brother Allen signed the Harpers contract in New York (Parker, V2.93). Yep, Human Destiny was the talk of the town when Pierre was finally turned over to the Harpers.

In Manhattan at the Church of the Messiah, Dewey gave eight lectures on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from January 27, 1852 (first in the series) to February 19, 1852 (eighth and final lecture). Accounts of each lecture were published as follows in the New York Daily Tribune:
I. New York Daily Tribune, Wednesday, January 28, 1852
The Problem of Human Destiny.
LECTURE I. [Tuesday, January 27, 1852]
The course of lectures by Rev. Orville Dewey, on the Problem of Human Destiny, was opened last evening in the Church of the Messiah before a numerous audience. The special interest of the problem, said Dr Dewey, which he proposed to discuss consisted in the fact of the existence of evil. Without this, the condition of man on earth would present few mysteries. Floating down the easy current of existence, he would be a mere partaker of enjoyment; he would observe, but would not question; and content with the present, would not attempt to explore the future for the solution of his doubts. But evil exists. It throws its dark shadow over the fairest scenes of our present life. We are exposed to physical evil, which is pain, and to moral evil, which is sin. An irresistible instinct has always compelled the human intellect to pry into the reason for this condition of our being.

It may be said that the subject is above our comprehension. Man, in attempting to penetrate its depths, has been compared to a fly, attempting to explain the revolution of a wheel, by which he is carried round. But with this mock modesty, said Dr. D., I do not sympathize. It is the sentiment of the atheist or skeptic. It proceeds from arrogance rather than humility. Even the famous saying of Socrates, that he knew nothing but his own ignorance, had its origin in intellectual pride. For my own part, continued the lecturer, I make no claim to this philosophical ignorance. I venture to believe that I know something about the subject, and stand here to tell what it is. Not that I pretend to have wholly fathomed its infinite depths. I have not exhausted its illimitable wealth. Nor does the emigrant to California exhaust the affluent stores of her golden placers. But this fact does not forbid our engaging in the research with confidence, for we may be certain that some precious fruit will await our labor.

For after all, it is a problem which we propose to discuss. And a problem, by its etymology pro ballo Greek, means something which is thrown out for consideration, something to be examined on all sides, like a ball which is to be kept rolling. We may compare the universe to a ball, wound round with the mysteries of life, of which we endeavor to catch a glimpse in its rapid revolution, even if we cannot fathom its vast profundities. After a series of comments on the argument of Leibnitz, as set forth in the Theodice, Dr. D. said that he should explain the existence of evil on the following principles.

It is no limitation of the attributes of the Deity to assert that he cannot make a contradiction possible. The illustration is often used that God cannot make two mountains without a valley between them. But the question does not involve the consideration of power, in the slightest degree. It is not correct to say, that God cannot do the thing, but that the thing cannot be. It is an absurdity, in the nature of things. It follows from the nature of a triangle, that the sum of it angles is equal to three right angles. It cannot be otherwise. To ask whether God could not make a triangle, the three angles of which should be equal to five or seven right angles, is the same as to ask whether he could construct a figure, which should be a triangle and not a triangle at the same time, or in other words, whether he could make an impossibility possible.

Applying these principles to the question of the origin of evil, Dr. D. argued that the present system is created, is not self existent, does not depend on its own inherent energies. Hence, it must be limited. This is involved in the fact of creation. The thing created cannot share the fullness of the Creator. The finite must by the nature of the case be inferior to the Infinite on which it depends. Hence, it must be imperfect, and hence EVIL, natural and moral. It is inherent in the very idea of creation. Its absence would be an impossibility, would imply a contradiction; for if the created being were not liable to evil, it would be perfect; but perfection is an attribute of the Creator. The creature and the Creator, on this supposition, would be identical. Evil must therefore be inevitable in any system of creation.

The same thought may be presented in another light. All created being must begin somewhere. The fact of beginning implies infancy, or imperfection, or in other words evil. The first time a thing is done, the result must be inferior to the excellence which comes from long practice. This is another illustration of the inevitableness of evil in a created system.

Proceeding from these views, to the fact of the moral freedom of man, Dr. D. showed that evil was an essential contingent in the discipline by which he was trained to virtue and happiness. This point was elucidated by a variety of considerations, with which the lecture was finally brought to a close.
II. New York Daily Tribune, Friday, January 30, 1852; describes second lecture on “various adaptations of the material universe to the uses of man, as indicative of the power and benignity of the Creative Providence.” To demonstrate "influence of natural beauty on the soul," Dewey closed by quoting from the first book of Wordsworth's The Excursion:
          ----------Sound needed none,
Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank      
The spectacle: sensation, soul, and form
All melted into him; they swallowed up
His animal being; in them did he live,
And by them did he live; they were his life.
In such access of mind, in such high hour
Of visitation from the living God,
Thought was not; in enjoyment it expired.
No thanks he breathed, he proffered no request;
Rapt into still communion that transcends
The imperfect offices of prayer and praise,
His mind was a thanksgiving to the power
That made him; it was blessedness and love!
III. New York Daily Tribune, Thursday, February 5, 1852 describes third lecture on “the subject of human organization, regarded in its connection with the formation of character and the development of mind.”
Now-a-days we have a philosophy of everything. The most superficial treatises of shallow sciolists are dignified with the title of philosophy. But the true aim of philosophy is elevated and rational, and intimately connected with the progress of humanity. Let us, then, examine the difference between the organization of man and that of the lower animals, in regard to its influence on the training and perfection of his spiritual nature....

A coarse skin is almost incompatible with a refined mind. If I knew a man who could let a fly creep over his face without feeling it, I should be apt to set him down as harsh and coarse-grained in his spiritual nature, and destitute of noble, expansive and sympathetic sensibilities. The skin in man, then, is an efficient means of his spiritual education....

Another important element in his training to higher ends is the faculty of laughter. The animals are not endowed with this power, unless the grinning of monkeys is an exception. This is not merely an expression of the sense of the ludicrous. Laughter is the symbol of a contented mind, of a genial fellowship, of a comfortable sense of satisfaction, and tends to unite the scattered elements of society in a common feeling of fraternity. Its influence on health is not to be overlooked. An explosion of laughter is an excellent aid to digestion. Superior to old wine, or old cheese, or other celebrated peptic persuaders.
IV. New York Daily Tribune, Saturday, February 7, 1852; describes fourth lecture “on the Human Soul, in reference to its capacities for spiritual culture.”
When I ponder over the lucid pages of Dugald Stewart, that most sublime modern philosopher, to whom such a just and eloquent tribute has been paid by Sir James Mackintosh, I feel as if I were a head taller and can only give vent to my ineffable feelings by striding across the room.
V. New York Daily Tribune Thursday, February 12, 1852 Dewey's fifth lecture “devoted to a consideration of the complex nature of man, consisting of soul and body, as adapted to his spiritual culture.”

The complex nature of man, moreover, places him in society, with all its comprehensive and powerful influences. This was the grand educator of the race. Some of its features have been considered unfavorable to human development, such as its selfishness, its inequalities, is competition, and its solidarity. But the ill-effects of these had been greatly exaggerated. Wealth and rank are the objects of strong aversion with many: they have been called in question by the moralist, ridiculed by the satirist, and abused by the cynic. But they form a part of the inevitable system of inequality which prevails in the world. I am opposed, indeed, said Dr. D. to the possession of hereditary wealth, founded on a system of entails. But where every man has a fair chance, no hurtful inequalities can exist. And you cannot do them away. Make all men equal to-morrow, they would at once change places, and the old distinctions would return. Nor was competition so rife as it was often stated. There was little of it in the country. It was almost exclusively confined to cities.
VI. New York Daily Tribune, Monday, February 16, 1852; reports sixth lecture on “the forms of human activity and the conditions to which they are subjected, considered in their relations to spiritual culture."
He was going to lead his audience, said Dr. D. into the midst of common every day themes. He did not pretend to be the teacher of a transcendental philosophy, but trusted that he was able to expound the principles of common sense…. It was a great error first put forth by feudalism, and strengthened by the institution of slavery, that labor was disgraceful, whereas it is one of the primeval ordinances of the Creator, and at the basis of human improvement and dignity....
... The conditions of human activity, noticed by Dr. D., were imperfection, illusion and fluctuation. In treating of illusion, he said that many persons had a great desire to obtain the absolute truth, but he doubted whether this was desirable. Remove the thin veil of mysticism which covers the universe, dispel all the bright illusions which now so strongly pique the imagination, let everything be presented in the pure and awful reality, he doubted whether the human eye could bear the spectacle. After giving an eloquent panegyric on sleep, under the head of fluctuation, with some remarks on the fancied superiority of angels to men, the Lecturer closed his original and instructive Discourse.
VII. New York Daily Tribune, Thursday, February 19, 1852; reports seventh lecture on the subjects of Pain, Hereditary Evil, and Death:

... certain conditions of human life which were usually regarded as most perplexing and mysterious. They present themselves before us in grim array, challenging investigation, and demanding us to reconcile them with the order of Providence.  In every age they have caused many anxious doubts.  The sublime mind of Plato seems at times to have staggered beneath their weight, as when he describes them as the work of some inferior, malicious demon; although, on the whole, he appears to have inclined to the theory of necessity, as developed in the present course.  This is the only key to the mystery, as has been already stated….
... But pain is necessary as a lesson of prudence.
VIII. New York Daily Tribune, Friday, February 20, 1852; on “the grand movement of humanity, or the phases of progress in the history of man.”
The lecturer then gave a condensed and graphic sketch of the course of civilization from the earliest ages to the present time. Everything shows that progress has been made in government, arts, literature, religion and social happiness. But this is only a foretaste of what we may expect. The visions of Condorcet, who, in the midst of the ferocity and carnage of the French Revolution, wrote a treatise on the destiny of the race to freedom, virtue, and happiness, had a foundation in reality. The lecture was closed with a glowing description of the resources of the present and the hopes of the future, for the advancement of humanity.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

wild, wonderful, and tragical Pierre

Something rare, early positive spin on Pierre!

Quoted from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin in advertisements in the New York Literary World (October 16, 1852) and Morning Courier (October 20, 1852):
Mr. Melville has cut the acquaintance of Polynesia, and has made a domestic story as wild, wonderful, and tragical as he ever conjured from the tropical wilds of the coral islands of the Pacific. Pierre is a curious mixture of Dante’s Inferno and of Hamlet. Pierre, Lucy Tartan, Mrs. Glendinning, and Isabel, are creations that could have come from no other source than Melville’s mind. * * * It is clothed with language singularly wild, beautiful, and wonderful. —Phila. Evening Bulletin
Maybe we can find the rest of it somewhere.

Related post:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Unidentified Daguerreotypist

Unknown maker, American, daguerreotypist
Portrait of Unidentified Daguerreotypist, 1845, Daguerreotype, hand-colored
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

View of Peekskill 1851

View of Peekskill 1851. Digital ID: 54891. New York Public Library

Image Credit: NYPL Digital Gallery

Lithograph by Karl Gildemeister at the NYPL Digital Gallery, from a daguerreotype by S. L. Walker--possibly the first daguerreotypist of Herman Melville.

Daguerreotypist is a word.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Daguerreotype of Herman Melville by S. L. Walker?

Melville truculently refused to be daguerreotyped in February 1851. The following year his fictional hero Pierre showed the same defiance: "To the devil with you and your Daguerreotype!"
Nonetheless, in August 1847 (the month and year of Melville's marriage to Elizabeth Shaw) we find Albany photographer S. L. Walker (formerly of Troy) in Kingston showing off a daguerreotype of Herman Melville. Was this taken from the life, or did Walker cleverly make his picture somehow from the Twitchell painting?

Well, that might explain why his pictures boasted "the transparency, and softness of the best painted portraits."  For his part, Twitchell in some works is said to have been
''inspired by the detail possible in daguerreotypes.'' 
(Mary-Kate O'Hare, quoted by William Zimmer in a 1997 New York Times article)
From the Rondout [New York] Freeman, Saturday, August 21, 1847:
DAGUERREOTYPES WORTH HAVING. Mr. Walker, whose card is in to-days paper is one of the few daguerreotypists who thoroughly understand his beautiful art. That the blessed sun himself can be a very bad painter when maltreated by bunglers is very apparent in the swarms of specters of dismal countenance clad in very blue linen, called by courtesy daguerrean likenesses. Mr. W’s productions are of a very different stamp; remarkable for distinctness, for the absence of the ghastly tints, startling lights and shades, and painful distortions so common; and possessing the transparency, and softness of the best painted portraits. His daguerreotypes of Martin Van Buren, Silas Wright, W. H. Seward, Gov. Bouck and other men of note, have commanded the admiration of the best critics in art. To give the people of Rondout an opportunity of judging of his quality, Mr. W has left some specimens at the Mansion House, embracing Herman Melville, author of “Omoo” &c, Dr. McNaughton of Albany, and other widely known personages.
The advertisement or "card" referred to, again from the Rondout Freeman:
PREMIUM DAGUERREOTYPES. S. L. WALKER, of ALBANY, will be found at his rooms in Kingston for a few weeks. He is prepared to furnish Daguerreotypes of surpassing excellence, in either fair or cloudy weather, warranted to give satisfaction. Mr. W. received the first premium medal at the State Agricultural Fair in 1843, and also the silver medal at the American Institute, New York. Citizens generally are invited to call and examine specimens of skill, at his rooms, in North Front street Kingston, formerly Culley’s Printing Office.
And what's up with the middle name?  Is it Samuel Lear or Samuel Leon Walker?  Are they one and the same, or different men? Walker relocated from Albany to Poughkeepsie, apparently in June 1847 though he may have returned to the Albany area for a few years, before settling down in Poughkeepsie for good.  According to Michael Pritchard, writing of Samuel Leon Walker, the
“only known collection of Walker’s work is held by George Eastman House,in Rochester, New York.”  (Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, 1465)
But you can still find stray images of daguerreotypes by S. L. Walker online at places like ebay and Google Images.  Hey how cool would it be, to spot young Herman Melville's mug in on some dusty unidentified daguerreotype by say "S L Walker, Albany" or "Walker & Gavit" or even "Walker, Troy."

Update: The "painter-like" quality of Walker's work was noted by the Albany Argus of September 9, 1845, specifically with reference to the daguerreotype portrait of Silas Wright by Walker & Gavit.
DAGUERREOTYPE PORTRAITS.—We were shown yesterday, a remarkably fine specimen of the perfection to which the art of Daguerreotyping has attained in the hands of Messrs. WALKER & GAVIT, of this city. It was a portrait of GOV. WRIGHT. The expression and features were of course to the life; but the exquisite gradations of light and shadow, and the painter-like effect, could scarce be surpassed.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

the appeal of Porter and Emory to romancers like Melville

William Henry Babcock on the kind of books to be found in a private Maryland library:
There are also Porter's very frank narrative of experiences in the South Seas, which must have prompted Herman Melville's "Omoo" and "Typee," and Emory's business-like chronicle of Kearney's old New Mexican campaigns, in which I think I can discover the germs of Mayne Reid's southwestern tales.  --Lippincott's Monthly Magazine 42 -1888
Babcock of course refers to David Porter's Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean, indeed one of Melville's early source-books, and William H. Emory's Notes of a Military Reconnaissance.

General William H. Emory (4190881658)
Gen. William H. Emory ca. 1860-1865

Monday, July 29, 2013

Tom Melville yarn, retold for the Boston Journal by "The Kennebecker" (John H. Drew)

Harper's New Monthly Magazine
January 1873
Herman Melville's youngest brother as a rebellious "Yankee beggar"? Aboard a British man-of-war? Reminds me of Israel Potter....

Writing as "The Kennebecker" for the Boston Journal, John H. Drew recalls meeting his old shipmate, now Governor of Sailors' Snug Harbor on Staten Island, and retells one of Tom Melville's youthful tales of adventure in the China Seas. Excerpt below is from number 31 of "From the Pine to the Palm, or, The Cruise of the Reward" in the Boston Journal, Saturday, May 27, 1882.
The chief of the establishment, called by courtesy, I presume, the Governor, I made myself known to, and he met us at the office. We had been mates together, on the coast of China, years ago (he was a first-class one, too,) and was one of those mentioned in my “Libraries at Sea.” He had an excellent taste for literature and influenced me largely in my reading. As he received and dismissed his “habitats” here, I looked at him long and intently to see if there was anything of the crack mate about him.. There was not much. He bore his honors well, although I had wished to find more of my old officer. He handed me the entry book, in which was stated the particulars of each application. It was rather interesting. I noticed the remark often, “So-and-so has permission to attend the Catholic church.” And I wondered, if it were a Catholic institution, whether members would have permission to attend the Protestant church. I doubt it.


It is well known that “the Governor” is the brother of the author “Herman Melville,” and the reader of the latter’s book “Redburn” will notice that he dedicates it to his young brother, then on his first voyage to China. It was on a voyage to and from China that the young brother stowed away many good stories to be related to his friends afterwards, and one he told me when he was “Chief” of a crack Boston clipper ship. (He sailed out of Boston ‘till the last.) I meant to have asked his permission to give this, but I forgot it, there was so much to say. And, begging his pardon (I really do not think he will care), I will give it here. He was adrift in China and looking for a ship. Now, it happened that an English ship, on board of which something had occurred—I do not recollect what just now—depriving her of her officers and crew, from captain down (perhaps it was mutiny), was recruiting a new ship’s company. An officer from a British man-‘o-war was detailed to navigate the ship to England, and the rest were, from the mates down, of the roughest sort. Our young sailor and his chum, another American, determined to try their fortunes under the British flag. There was no end of trouble and deviltry, want of discipline and everything that was good as a lark to these harum-scarum sailor boys, and the passage wore tediously on. One night in the dog watch, while the old tub of a teak-built Royal Briton was rolling along, my young friend was perched upon the poop, steering his trick at the wheel. He told me the light was a miserable slush lamp, with a wick of oakum. He could hardly see the compass, and much less the points. The noble commander was pacing the deck, and, with the aid of his eye-glass and a flicker of the rude light discovered that the ship was a point off her course. “This never’ll do, ye know,” said he; “can’t you steer the ship, you American beggar?” This stung our young sailor to the quick, and he adopted the British fashion of “cheeking” the master at once. “I can steer a ship, sir,” said he, “but not a box like this.” This caused the lord of creation to explode in fierce invectives upon all “blasted Yankees.” The consequence was, that at eight o’clock the greasy mate came aft, touched the knuckle of this forefinger to a lock of hair sticking out from under his cap, in token of respect, to await the master’s orders, who told him to turn the American for’rd and never allow him under any pretence to be seen abaft the booby hatch. The mate received his orders, and asked if he should “make it eight bells, as it was eight o’clock.” “Very well, sir, make it.” This, I believe, on board of an English ship is the rule. Eight bells in the evening is never struck, until the captain gives the order, as he may wish some other order executed first. Perhaps to tell the steward to give the men a glass of grog, and himself a “pint of half-and-half,” or a glass of wine.


This was a wretched ship, and there was very little to eat on board. But the steward pacified the grumbling crew with the fact that “Christmas was coming,” and the master had promised a plum duff for the hands. This kept the discontented, growling men quiet for the time. I will digress here a little to say, that I, once upon a time, spent a few months in England. I noticed that among the lower classes the last half of a week seemed to be spent in looking forward to the Sabbath, when they were to have the only real meal of the week, their “roast biff” and plum pudding, or “bit of pork and cabbidge,” and they dwelt on that for the first half of the week that followed, when they turned their longing appetites to the following Sunday. It seemed so to me. The captain of this ship probably was acquainted with this habit, and thought he could use Christmas the same as his countrymen did the Sabbath, i.e., life on it for a long passage. The duff was brought in to the forecastle (by the boys of course), and the eager crew gathered around it. It was a miserable batch of wormy, dirty flour, boiled in greasy water, and very few plums. One old Jack began by saying “it was like a piece of bloody putty, the bloody stuff.” The there was no end to the indignation. Was this what they had waited and wished for so long—borne with so much of want and hunger for? “I’ll tell you what it is,” said my young friend’s chum, the American, “if that was brought into an American ship’s forecastle we would not stand it a moment.” “No more will we” snorted an old barnacle back. “What say ye, mates, shall we carry it aft?” “Aye! aye! aft with it!” joined the savage chorus.
This carrying a complaint aft to the British lion’s den is a delicate business, and has to be arranged with a great deal of ceremony and etiquette. So it was performed in this case as follows. Two of the oldest hands headed the crew each with his tin pan and piece of duff. Another old “heart of oak” that looked in his whiskers like a rat peeping out of a bunch of oakum, carried the kid (a small wooden tub), with a half of the duff cut in the centre. The rest of the crew followed in order according to their age and rank. The steward, dodging about the cabin, saw the approaching “circus,” and went up the cabin steps in time to receive the request of the foremost delegation for an interview with the captain. That awful functionary leisurely and gravely made his appearance (I have read some English author who says if you wish to impress others with your greatness, make them wait for you), and haughtily demanded “the meaning of all this blasted row?”

The old men stated their case with their hats in their hands, each one with a lock of hair over his left eye, and wished to know if the master called that stuff (in their pans) fit for the people to eat. “I don’t see anything the matter with it.” “But taste it—taste it,” was the demand. “Steward, steward, fetch me a fork,” he pompously ordered. The steward brought the fork, whereupon he deliberately detached a morsel with a plum in it, put it in his mouth, and pronounced it excellent, most excellent duff, they had ought to be ashamed to complain of such fare, and grandly ordered the crew forward. This was too much. “You like it, do you, sir?” exclaimed one of the men. “Well, you can have mine, sir,” and he hove it at the captain as he would a snow ball. “Yes, yes,” said another, “take mine,” and he let fly. Then they all roared in chorus, “You like it? Eat mine and mine!” and they began to pelt him, ‘till the old man with the kid yelled, “Yes, sir! take it all, you are welcome to it,” and hove kid and all down the stairs. Then they let their pans go at him. And the “dirty mate,” as they called him, and our “Yankee beggar,” who was forbidden to come aft the booby-hatch, stood upon this coigne du vantage, took good aim over the heads of the rest and knocked the master’s gold braided hat off.

The discomfited commander beat a retreat, the sailors had their revenge and felt better, the result was that the “official log” was produced, I suppose the British horneur [?] noted the proceedings down “by act of Parliament,” etc., etc. It was read over to the ringleaders that they had insulted an officer in the Queen’s navee by pelting him with duff, etc., for all of which they would be fined a day’s pay or something like that sort, and they witnessed and signed it, exclaiming it was worth a day’s pay and they did not care a pinch of snuff for it.

I have added the last sentence, as I do not recollect the result; but this would be the lawful and usual one. I have seen such things more than once, being in contact so much with English ships, in their own ships at home and abroad. …

But to return. No one would think the “Yankee boy” that hove the last piece of duff at the English captain was now the reserved, dignified Governor before us. To appreciate the story one ought to have heard him, the dashing mate, afterward captain of the clipper ship Meteor, of Boston, relate it. Scenes like these have eminently fitted him to enter into all the troubles of a sailor’s life and to be their Governor. Long may he wave.
online at

"The Kennebecker" identified!

Sketches of nautical adventure in the Boston Journal reveal "The Kennebecker" as a friend and former shipmate of Thomas Melville, Herman's youngest brother.

Citing materials at the Maine Historical Society, Worldcat identifies the journalist "Kennebecker" as
John H. Drew (1834-1890)

Ship captain and later correspondent of the Boston Journal; b. in Chelsea, Me.; d. in Farmingdale, Me.; lived in Hallowell and Gardiner and commanded many of the ships sailing from Boston, including the Fearless, Sea Witch, and Franklin. One of the series he wrote for the Boston Journal was "The Cruise of the Sea Witch." 

Scrapbook of newspaper clippings pasted over a Portland & Rumford Falls Railway train orders book, chiefly consisting of letters (1890) by John H. Drew, the "Kennebecker" correspondent of the Boston Journal. Also includes "A tribute from his native place" (1890) and "Notes" (1924). Compiler is unknown.  (Worldcat)
As noted previously here, The Kennebecker also wrote for the Boston Journal about cruises of The Reward and The Pathfinder.

Herman's brother Tom Melville remembered as "the rollicking, dare-devil sort"

Next in the list came Capt. Thomas Melville, Governor of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor at Staten Island. We met as mates of Boston Indiamen in the far East. I have mentioned him in earlier letters. He was one of the rollicking, dare-devil sort in his youth, and you could not help admiring him. He afterward commanded the Boston ships Meteor and Bengal. Then he settled down as staid Governor of the Snug Harbor, a glorious institution. He was the youngest brother of Herman Melville, the author who dedicated his fascinating book, “Redburn,” to him, then a young sailor on board the Celestial en voyage for China.
-- "Cruise of the Ship Pathfinder / Home from the Land of the Rising Sun," Number 28, by"The Kennebecker," Boston Journal, December 27, 1887; accessible at
This "Kennebecker" mentioned Herman and Thomas Melville in previous series for the Boston Journal, "From the Pine to the Palm, or the Cruise of the Reward." Herman Melville is mentioned in the June 9, 1881 and February 10, 1882 issues of the Boston Journal; the May 27, 1882 number involves Thomas Melville in a long yarn titled "The Chief Mate's Story."
For updates see Tom Melville Yarn and Kennebecker identified!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Clarel and Mattie Griffith's "Student"

Self-portrait with Hand on Brow
1910, Käthe Kollwitz
Elbow on knee, and brow sustained
All motionless on sidelong hand,
A student sits, and broods alone.  -- Clarel Part 1 Canto 1
That's Melville's depressed divinity student in the opening canto of Clarel.  Newly arrived in Jerusalem, head on hand Clarel "sits, and broods alone" in his room, at twilight.

At first glance, Clarel looks like he transferred out from the start of Mattie Griffith's poem The Student:

ALONE he sat.  His broad and lofty brow
Was bent upon his thin, pale hand...

"The Student" was printed in Sartain's Magazine for January 1852 and first collected in Poems by Mattie Griffith (New York, 1853) pages 84-87.

Griffith's student sits "All alone" at twilight and mournfully contemplates successive deaths of dear loved ones, seemingly his entire family.  He covets and wins fame which fails, however, to cure his inward grieving.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mattie Griffith and Melville on the New York City Draft Riots

Here is the paper I presented Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at the Melville and Whitman conference in Washington, DC.


Melville and Whitman each had his say about the New York City Draft Riots of July 1863, widely regarded as the worst civil uprising in U. S. history. In the year of the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg, working-class whites, mostly Irish immigrants, feared increased competition for jobs and opposed the new Conscription Act with its $300 exemption for men of means. Anti-draft demonstrations yielded in subsequent days to extreme racist violence. Some rioters invaded homes, looted businesses, tortured and lynched African Americans, and burned down an orphanage. State militia and some federal troops were called in finally to quell the insurrection. Whitman wrote of the shocking violence as “the Devil’s own work.” Melville blamed some blend of devolution and depravity in The House-top, one of the better known Civil War poems from Battle-Pieces.

Neither Melville nor Whitman was in town that week in mid-July to personally see anything of the draft riots. Mattie Griffith (1828-1906) was. She gave her first-hand impressions in a letter to fellow abolitionist Mary Anne Estlin (1820-1902) of Bristol, England. I want to share part of Griffith’s account and compare her take with Melville’s. Besides identical subject matter, the particular relevance to “The House-top” concerns point of view, the question of who speaks. Is it Melville himself, as omniscient Bard (Helen Vendler)? Or Wordsworthian wanderer (Robert A. Duggan, Jr)? One influential line of criticism starts with the reading of the poem by Stanton Garner as the dramatic monologue of a radical Republican, contemptuous of the Irish rabble, aggressively patriotic as a member of the elite Union League Club and therefore glad for any military intervention that restores order. Others like Timothy Sweet in Traces of War and Gary Grieve-Carlson recognize one meditative speaker of several minds, hence the changing, unstable perspective. Cody Marrs likes the single “genteel witness” identified by Garner. Dennis Berthold also would accept one speaker, but one whose disdain for unruly mobs is close to Melville’s and therefore not so ironic as Garner supposed. Discerning multiple voices, David Devries and Hugh Egan argue against Garner’s lone spectator that the initial eyewitness perspective “dissolves into competing philosophical discourses” (31). Wyn Kelley similarly emphasizes the poem’s “contending views,” but locates them in one speaker with a ventriloquist’s ability to project different convictions about human nature and civil society (237).

No critic thinks the speaker is a woman.

With that in mind as a possibility, let me excerpt part of what Mattie Griffith wrote Mary Anne Estlin from NY on July 27, 1863:
My dear Miss E[stlin],
It is scarcely the time to write to you now, while I am so excited by the recent outrageous Irish mob which has just disgraced this city of the free North; you will, no doubt, have read accounts of it. For four days this entire city was under the rule of the most boisterous, noisy, riotous, murderous mob that ever disgraced barbaric, let alone civilized, times. The conscription was made the pretext, but really it was the outbreak of the sympathizers with the Southern rebellion. That I live to tell you the story is a marvel, for the mob threatened to burn our house, because the American Freedman’s Commission Office is under this roof, and we lived in momentary expectation of an attack. I can scarcely describe to you my feelings—they were not feelings, but a confused sense of half being. We had no police in the streets; they had all been detailed to the more immediate scenes of violence. Murder and arson stalked abroad. Men entered houses and demanded money from ladies at the point of the bayonet. The mob burnt any house they fancied; one telegraphic wire was destroyed; railway tracks torn up; the fire-engines were not allowed to work; plunder and murder went on by the wholesale. Through the bowed blinds of my windows I watched the strange, wretched, abandoned creatures that flocked out from their dens and lairs. They stood under my window, defied the Government, cursed the draft, and used all sorts of wicked language. I was heart-sick. The negroes—the poor negroes! They have been the worst sufferers—no one helped them. They were recklessly shot down, hanged, burned, roasted alive—every device and refinement of cruelty practiced upon them, and no one dared interpose in their behalf. God knows my heart bleeds when I attempt to recount the atrocities to which, in their friendless, helpless condition, they were forced to submit. A child of three years of age was thrown from a fourth story window and instantly killed. A woman one hour after her confinement was set upon and beaten with her tender babe in her arms, and driven, on peril of her life, to the woods, where she remained during a pelting storm, and was found dead next morning. Children were torn from their mothers’ embrace, and their brains blown out in the very face of the afflicted mothers. Men were burnt by slow fires,—mutilated,—arms, limbs cut off, and they forced to meet death in this slow manner! All sorts of barbarities were practiced for four long bloody days, each one of us silently waiting our own call. You see our “Copperhead” governor [Horatio Seymour] had most artfully denuded the city of the military, by ordering off the regiments to Pennsylvania under pretext of whipping the rebel invaders of that state.

It makes my blood boil to think of all these outrages....

[Courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library / Rare Books
MS. A. 9. 2. 31 p. 74]
My sincere thanks go to librarian Sean Casey of the Rare Books Department, Boston Public Library for expert help in locating this printed copy of Mattie Griffith's letter to Mary Anne Estlin at BPL.
Most obvious among similarities is the physically elevated viewpoint. Melville’s speaker looks down from the house-top or roof. Mattie Griffith looked down “through the bowed blinds of my windows” on real rioters from above her workplace. Melville’s reference to Sirius, the dog-star that sets in the southwest, situates the House-top somewhere uptown, north and east of visible fires—possibly in Mattie Griffith’s vicinity in the present East Village, at the corner of Second Avenue and East 9th Street. Both use arson as trope to get at the evil behind the setting of fires. Griffith personifies arson sensationally, as one of two roving criminals: “Murder and arson stalked abroad.” Melville’s “red Arson” with a capital A “balefully glares,” demonically, like Milton’s Satan or a medieval monster—say Grendel. In Mardi, the phrase baleful glare occurs in allegories of slavery and rebellion, connecting Calhoun as a southern zombie and the European revolutions of 1848. 

Looking down involves for both writers an attitude of moral and cultural superiority, beyond physical elevation. Both employ animal imagery to describe the scene of the riots. Griffith views rioters as subhuman denizens of the jungle: “strange, wretched, abandoned creatures that flocked out from their dens and lairs.” Melville’s speaker belittles working-class rioters as common pests: ”The town is taken by its rats.” Melville’s “ship rats” and wharf rats are inescapably Irish rats with ancestors in fairy tale and Elizabethan folklore. Figuring Law and Religion as metaphorical charms and spells does not betray contempt for Law and Religion, necessarily. As the Pied Piper teaches, that’s how you get rid of rats. Rhyme them to death with song, perhaps incantatory blank verse, or as one old playwright has it, “satire steeped in vinegar.”

Besides all the rats, Melville’s animal imagery includes references to dogs (the dog-star Sirius; plus dog-like cynics) and tigers. It’s the dog-days and the summer heat agitates New Yorkers like tropical heat agitates “tawny tigers” in “matted shades.” It’s tempting to equate the overheated tigers with rioters, but that would soon lead us to confuse cats and rats. The tiger symbolizes wild, strong forces, menacing in destructive capability. One hundred and fifty years ago next month, broadsides all over the city proclaimed: “DON’T UNCHAIN THE TIGER” with evident reference to the threat of violence by working-class gangs. But conservative Democrats overtly read the tiger as a symbol of the radical wartime agenda, exhibited in the unlawful suspension of constitutional rights and the Emancipation Proclamation. As the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Sun (still Melville’s local newspaper, though not for long) editorialized on August 27, 1863, the tiger of “mob spirit” was preceded by the more dangerous “abolition tiger” of radical anti-slavery who
“began his ravages when fanatics and partisans obtained a prepondering influence in the administration of public affairs.”
Unleashed by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the “abolition tiger” represents for the Sun and like-minded readers the bigger enemy to freedom and national unity, more powerful and menacing than the tiger of “mob spirit.” If the speaker in “The House-top” is a Republican and abolitionist, Melville’s image of “tawny tigers” would seem all the more ironic and self-revealing in the way of dramatic monologues. To Pittsfield conservatives, Abolition tigers were less manageable than Irish rats, more to be feared as influential agents of political agitation and unrest. With vexed, overheated blood Melville’s tigers are “apt for ravage,” recalling the perceived “ravages” of abolition tigers. Not only that, they pace in their “matted shades,” almost daring you to imagine Mattie Griffith the abolitionist, looking down behind her bowed blinds, with her blood understandably boiling.

Besides the similar use of animal imagery, Griffith and Melville both characterize the actions of rioters as chronological regression. Griffith describes the rioters as a collective disgrace to the Stone Age. In the same spirit Melville goes even further. Unwilling to grant human status to roaming torturers and killers, Melville registers their moral devolution in geological rather than historical time: “man rebounds whole æons back in nature.” With aeons Melville generously ascribes unspeakable deeds to prehistoric creatures with the morality of protozoa. Folk-tale imagery of rats and magic no longer suffices.

If any lines of “The House-top” are “steeped in vinegar” to ward off rats, those would be the lines that expressly, imperially “hail” Draco, as everyone recognizes the embodiment of uncompromising, intolerably harsh justice. The State as Draco brings disproportionate military force but arrives “late,” in other words too late to stop the horrifying attacks by rioters. Draco’s refusal to parley, to confer or negotiate with militant crowds, necessarily multiplies the casualties, as reported July 23, 1863 in the Pittsfield Sun:
“Upwards of 500 persons, including women and children, are believed to have fallen under the fire of the military and police.”
Lynch mobs slander human nature. “Wise Draco” defies the Constitution. The bloody spectacle of both on the streets of New York argues for misanthropy and the virtues of monarchy: as Mortmain will aver in Clarel: “Man’s vicious: snaffle him with kings.”

The part of “the Town” most grateful for military intervention—eager for more in the form of martial law (never enacted, by the way)—consisted of Republicans, especially Union Leaguers opposed to conservative Democrats. “Being thankful,” as Melville’s rooftop commentator has it, and remaining firmly in power, pro-Union elites need not be bothered by the hole in their democratic principles, which amount after all to a kind of faith. Melville is still enough of a believer to affirm that faith, if only by the magic spell of song. Leaving us with the ancient thought that Man “is Nature’s Roman, never to be scourged,” the last verse nobly affirms inalienable human rights and dignity—against experience, against the reality of evil, against the poet’s own strong impulses toward misanthropy, in spite of the grime.

Is Mattie Griffith then the one Republican and Union Leaguer that Garner detected on Melville’s imagined Manhattan housetop? Well, she can't be the Union Leaguer that Garner sees, being triply ineligible for the elite Union League Club as a woman and southerner with no regular income. Nevertheless, she boasted the very best pro-Union and anti-slavery credentials. Her letter to Mary Estlin goes on to recount her solicitude for black victims of violence, a prominent concern of the Union League Club, and her activism as a member of the Ladies’ Loyal League to endorse the Emancipation Proclamation. Eminent abolitionists quickly embraced her anti-slavery fiction and her real life story. Lydia Maria Child, Garrison, Phillips all cheered and promoted her. Harriet Martineau commended her as “the Southern heiress who saw so much of slavery in her childhood that when she came of age (being an orphan) she freed all her slaves.”

Somehow everybody knew or knew about Mattie Griffith. Nathaniel Hawthorne heard about her through the proselytizing of his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, who exasperated the Hawthornes by trying to send their daughter Una excerpts from Mattie Griffith’s new book. Shocked by the graphic depiction of a slave auction, Sophia Hawthorne resented her sister’s direct and to Sophia’s mind unbelievably sensationalized appeals to her daughter:
“It is not necessary she should arrive at the idea of the beauty of holiness by means of knowing about Mattie Griffith.” (As quoted in Bruce A. Ronda, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (Harvard University Press, 1999) page 264.)
Emerson stole his notorious remark that John Brown’s hanging would “make the gallows glorious like the cross” from Mattie Griffith. In England, Bulwer-Lytton hosted her at Knebworth House. When Bulwer prophesied the inevitable breakup of the Union, a fellow-guest witnessed Mattie Griffith “dancing a wild Indian war dance” behind his back.

At the time of her letter to Mary Estlin, Griffith was much in the company of Robert Dale Owen, a former member of Congress and then colleague of Union Leaguer James McKaye, on the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission. Owen was also credited with a major role in convincing Lincoln to make the Emancipation Proclamation. In October 1862, Frances Dana Barker Gage reported conversing with them “morn, noon and eve of the war, of slavery, of American affairs generally”:
Opposite me, at Mr. Owen’s right hand, sits Mattie Griffith, the little Kentucky poetess, once such a favorite of the Louisville Journal and the Missouri Republican, known now more generally in the free States as the Emancipator of her slaves, and the author of sundry books and tales on slavery, among them, Autobiography of a Female Slave….”
(The Liberator, November 21, 1862)
After the war Griffith immediately began working for equal voting rights for women and blacks, with colleagues now including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone. At American National Biography Online, Joe Lockard continues Griffith’s story through her marriage to lawyer/banker Albert Gallatin Browne and their first move to Boston, where “Neighbors remembered Griffith as an independent spirit who liked to appear in Harvard Square dressed entirely in red, including red gloves.” Back in Boston after a New York interlude, only her death in 1906 could stop Mattie Griffith’s admirable career of social activism.

IN CONCLUSION. Switch the gender and Garner’s notion of one radical speaker in “The House-top” holds up surprisingly well in light of the parallel attitudes and imagery in Mattie Griffith’s letter on the draft riots. Not to mention the tantalizing whisper of Mattie in “matted shades.” The original letter is in London, but the Boston Public Library holds a printed version among papers of the Weston Sisters that was published alongside Deborah Webb's poem on John Brown in some yet unidentified piece of ephemera, possibly an anti-slavery newsletter or circular. The printed format increases the chances that Melville ever saw it from zero to possibly, at least.

One suggestion for further study. In late 1852, eight years before Melville tried and failed to get his first book of poems accepted for publication, the New York house of D. Appleton & Company came out with Poems, by Mattie Griffith. For a little book Griffith’s volume (dressed in red, see!) is fearless in exploring powerful feelings of rejection and abandonment. Emotionally intense verses from poems like “Thou Lovest Me No More” and “The Orphan” and “The Orphan Dreams of Fame” conceivably might have appealed to Melville and moved him, more personally and more deeply than her later prose or politics.

 [Deleted in conference reading:  Hawthorne had left the year before; then and after Melville began to interest himself in writing creatively about heroic loneliness and endurance of long-suffering women, from the real Agatha Hatch, loved and left by her bigamist sailor husband, to the fictional Chola widow in “The Encantadas.” Griffith’s spurned lover in “The Deserted” sounds a lot like Urania in “After the Pleasure Party”; her “Student” apparently transferred to the first canto of Clarel. Along with the lonely student, hermit, and lover, the orphan figures repeatedly in these early verses. For her part, Griffith did not need to read Moby-Dick to the end to know what Ishmael felt like as “only another orphan.” When she speaks in verses “To Mother” of “the lonely orphan wanderer,” she means herself.]

Adding some links, I find the Boston Public library also has a printed copy or rather extract of another, different letter from Mattie Griffith to Mary Anne Estlin, this one describing and reflecting on the assassination of President Lincoln. Mattie Griffith's letter on the assassination of Lincoln was published May 26, 1865 in some unidentified newspaper under the title "THE POPULAR FEELING IN AMERICA."  Further research may eventually identify the newspapers and other periodicals that were publishing Mattie Griffith's letters to Mary Anne Estlin.
  • Related post:

      Monday, June 10, 2013

      Streets of Washington: Book Review: Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C...

      Book ordered, on the way!
      Streets of Washington: Book Review: Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C...: Frederick Douglass (c. 1818-1895), the most famous African American of the 19th century, has been in the news lately because his statue is t...

      Saturday, June 8, 2013

      What Frederick Douglass really said about thieving politicians in his 1875 Lecture on our national capitol

      UPDATED AGAIN 07/31/2014 in Don't get it twisted

      UPDATE 6/10/2013
      By email, Ed Folsom has kindly supplied important background showing that a previous incarnation of his plenary lecture included just what seemed to me was missing from the talk as I heard it. Introducing the attributed remark of Douglass, Folsom originally gave fuller context, duly noted the questionable authenticity of the quotation, and also explicitly acknowledged the biographical work of John Muller, both in Muller's recently published book and his reflections online. Wow! Before cutting Folsom had said all I was thinking about, only more expansively and eloquently. The thing that to me most needed emphasizing, was Muller's most perceptive and essential insight about the incongruity of the ever-principled Douglass wanting to identify with a thief. Turns out that before cutting, Folsom also had made a point of noting this same incongruity, how the confessed impulse to "steal something" attributed to Douglass "seems so out of keeping with Douglass’s character."

      Below, a long excerpt from Ed Folsom's email reply, in which he helpfully gives the relevant text from the earlier version of his conference talk, before the regrettable deletions:

      "As I told a number of people at the conference, I felt like I was presenting a much-too-edited-down version of a paper that, as I wrote it over the past few months, had grown to nearly three times the size it needed to be for the keynote talk.  In an earlier version of the piece, I offered a fuller contextualization of the quote from Williams.  First, here’s what you heard me say in the talk at the conference:
      I want us, finally, to begin to understand what Frederick Douglass might have meant when he made one of his most enigmatic statements, reported by a Wisconsin congressman in the House of Representatives: “Douglas said he could never account for it: but somehow, whenever he got in sight of the Dome of the Capitol in Washington, he always felt as though he wanted to steal something.” Douglass, looking back at the years just after emancipation, said: “The South wouldn’t have us; the North didn’t want us. We were strangers in a strange land.” But the land was least strange here in DC, where emancipation had come nine months before Lincoln’s proclamation, and where, for a very few short years after the war, a biracial democracy had begun to form, one that desperately needed the encouragement and imagination of writers who failed to see the possibilities of the emancipated Freedom that looked down on them from above.
       And here’s what that passage looked like in the earlier and longer draft:
      Finally, I want to consider a statement attributed to Frederick Douglass by a Republican Wisconsin congressman, Charles G. Williams, in 1878, who recalled his friend Douglass (they met when both lived in Rochester, New York) saying something quite enigmatic: Williams reported in the House of Representatives that “Douglas said he could never account for it: but somehow, whenever he got in sight of the Dome of the Capitol in Washington, he always felt as though he wanted to steal something.”  A colleague of mine pointed this comment out to me some time ago, and I have since talked with several colleagues about what the comment could have meant, since it seems so out of keeping with Douglass’s character.  Douglass’s most recent biographer, John Muller, whose new book on Douglass’s life in Washington, D.C., just appeared last year, recently reproduced the quotation on his blog for the book, and he asks: “Was Douglass joking or dead-serious or dead-serious although joking?”  Of course, Douglass may never have said it.  But I want to have us think about the statement in relation to the way in which the Capitol dome came to be so racially inflected during the period it was being constructed.  Muller’s new book makes clear just how betrayed Douglass felt when Andrew Johnson became president and began quickly to try to stand in the way of the formation of a biracial democracy.  Douglass, looking back at the years just after emancipation, said: “The South wouldn’t have us; the North didn’t want us.  We were strangers in a strange land.” But the land was least strange here in DC, where emancipation had come nine months before Lincoln’s proclamation, and where, for a very few short years after the war, a biracial democracy had begun to form, one that desperately needed the encouragement and imagination of writers who failed to see the possibilities of the emancipated statue of Freedom that looked down on them from above.  Something in those years following the war had been stolen from the newly emancipated slaves, and, as we will soon see, many Americans were seeing the Capitol dome as the symbolic site of a stolen Liberty.
      At least the longer version made clear a little more about the Williams quote and suggested that its provenance was uncertain.  I had had so many interesting and illuminating talks with my colleagues here at Iowa about the quote over the past few months that I thought it was worth throwing it out there in the context of the new material I had found that attached the dome so thoroughly to the battles over civil rights for freed slaves.  Your pointing out Douglass’s citation of the Brownlow quote certainly could indicate that Williams simply was misremembering what Douglass said, or it could mean that Douglass adapted Brownlow’s statement for his own purposes in a conversation with Williams.  In any case, it’s an interesting and strange quotation by Williams of Douglass."
      (Ed Folsom, quoted by permission from his email of June 9, 2013)

      In his instructive and well-received plenary lecture June 4, 2013 at the recent Melville and Whitman conference in Washington, DC, Whitman scholar Ed Folsom quoted (twice, at least) Frederick Douglass on the Capitol Dome. The quotation sounded odd to me and Folsom did not explicate, but rather floated it out there as a possible (and vaguely "disturbing," maybe) instance of the way the Dome symbolized and provoked racial divides and themes during and after the Civil War. Folsom quoted Douglass as saying something like, whenever he saw or came near the Capitol Dome he always felt like he "wanted to steal something."

      That did not sound anything like the deeply principled Douglass to me, so naturally I had to Google it.

      Turns out Douglass was quoting (approvingly yet perhaps ironically, too) an old anecdote about crooked politicians associated with William Gannaway Brownlow, the former Tennessee governor and US Senator. As itinerant Methodist preacher, Brownlow had once refused to debate Douglass. Later Brownlow famously supported the Union, Reconstruction and black enfranchisement. The context of Douglass's citation of Brownlow is Washington with its corrupt politicians as a "moral monster" for supporting slavery and the southern rebellion:
      "Like any other moral monster, there was contamination in its touch, poison in its breath, and death in its embrace. There was something more than a wild and witty exaggeration in the saying of Senator Brownlow when he remarked to a fellow passenger that he must be getting near Washington, for he began to feel as if he wanted to steal something. In fostering and fomenting the late slaveholders' rebellion, Washington performed its full share. It sustained Buchanan when he trifled with treason. It applauded Breckenridge when he served the rebellion better in the Senate with his tongue then he could possibly serve it in the field with his sword. It stood between President Johnson and deserved impeachment and cheered him on in his ministry of disorganization. It smiled upon the cowardly and murderous assault of Brooks upon Senator Sumner. It hatched out in its heat and moral debasement the horrible brood of assassins who murdered the noble Lincoln and attempted the murder of Seward. Its people would, at any time during the great war for union and liberty, have preferred Davis to Lincoln and Lee to Grant." (Frederick Douglass: a Lecture on our National Capital)
      The main idea of the original anecdote is proverbial, "when in Rome..." When in Washington, you do as they do in the nation's capitol, which is STEAL.

      Douglass borrows the Brownlow anecdote for his own purposes, adapting it to a discussion of pro-slavery racism. However, the anecdote as transcribed here more generally describes Washington and Washington political culture, and not specifically the Capitol Dome as building or architecture, which was the focus of Folsom's talk.

      Maybe Folsom saw John Muller's blog entry or his new book on Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC where Wisconsin congressman Charles G. Williams is cited from the Congressional Record, loosely recounting the remark by Douglass a few years earlier. Unfortunately I don't have the book yet, I'm getting this part from the WordPress blog of John Muller.

      What I like about Muller's handling of Williams's misremembered quotation in the blog and book is that he can't quite believe the upright Douglass would ever say such a thing, despite the authority of the Congressional Record. Therefore Muller perceptively guesses if he did say that he must have been "joking" somehow.

      Link to source at American Memory, Library of Congress:
      Frederick Douglass: a Lecture on our National Capital. By Frederick Douglass. Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington D.C., 1978. Chesapeake Bay Book Collection.

      For more on the extant manuscript versions of Douglass's remarks on Washington, see the updated Melvilliana post

      Friday, April 5, 2013

      angels with jars, in the stars

      In thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti. -- Moby-Dick
      Ishmael's image of angels in paradise is a meditative vision of the night: borne of dreams, but also perhaps the product of stargazing. Maybe Ishmael means visions of the night SKY. His phrasing echoes Job 4:13 where Eliphaz begins to relate a fearful nightmare. The book of Job has been called "the most distinctively astronomical part of the Bible" (Catholic Encyclopedia). Job's "chambers of the south" (Job 9:9) are constellations in the southern hemisphere, admired in the fourth book of Clarel by another Ishmael, Ungar, that "wandering Ishmael from the West" (4.10):
      But Ungar, islanded in thought
      Which not from place a prompting caught,
      Alone, upon the terrace stair
      Lingered, in adoration there
      Of Eastern skies: "Now night enthrones 
      Arcturus and his shining sons;
      And lo, Job's chambers of the South:
      How might his hand not go to mouth
      In kiss adoring ye, bright zones?
      Look up: the age, the age forget-- 
      There's something to look up to yet!"  (Clarel 4.7)
      As John M. J. Gretchko first noticed in Melvillean Ambiguities, one of the star maps by Julius Schiller in the Harmonia Macrocosmica  of Andreas Cellarius shows, besides the jar-toting angel in Hyrdria Chananaea, the figure of Job as a southern constellation.

      There he is near the bottom of the map, just left of center:  Job.

      Back to Ishmael's vision in Moby-Dick as a vision of the night sky, how wonderful is this?  nine asterisks, all in a row!


      Ilana Pardes sees it:

      "The row of asterisks that follows his description adds a visual correlate of angelic stars while hinting at what remains inexplicable in the “inexpressible sperm.”
      -- Melville's Bibles (University of California Press, 2008) page 30.

      Pardes is also instructive, and eloquent, on the contrast between the comical serenity of Ishmael's vision and the "manipulative use of divine terror" by Eliphaz in Job:

      “Instead of fear and trembling, he puts forth a very different concept of divine vision that is based on a more fluid and playful crossing between the heavenly and earthly spheres. (Melville's Bibles page 31)
      a more fluid and playful crossing between the heavenly and earthly spheres.
      That's it! In his recent reading of the same passage, Caleb Crain gets that "the realms of heaven and earth have collapsed into each other" but regards the collapsing as something perilous--a hostile, faithless, "desperate" move (Melville's Secrets, Leviathan Volume 14, Issue 3, October 2012, pages 6-24 at page 16). That's why we need to look up every now and then. That collapsing of realms, that "crossing between the heavenly and earthly spheres" is Melville at his wicked and spotless best. It's the essence of poetry. Alongside the comment by Ilana Pardes on Melville's "fluid and playful crossing," compare the similar idea advanced by David Atwood Wasson while essaying to define poetry, especially poetry in relation to the aims of epic tragedy:
      "Poetry is the free reading up and down from Nature to Spirit and from Spirit to Nature, each seen in the other.  The outward feature of Nature and life must be preserved, with the finest, most delicate exactitude, that we may not read in a blurred type; and yet in all the soul must find its own immanent secret."  -- Epic Philosophy in The North American Review for October 1868, page 518; reprinted in Beyond Concord.
      And here we are again, back to secrets.

      For more on Melville in the stars, let's check out
      John F. Birk's Tracing the Round
      Bret Zimmerman's Herman Melville: Stargazer
      and don't' forget the prince of desert astronomers Dan Matlaga and his illuminating posts for Ishmailites, a few of which are still up here, at Pequod's End.

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      • Under the rose

      Thursday, April 4, 2013

      Visions of angels with jars

      Thinking about Ishmael's vision of angels with jars of spermaceti (Moby-Dick, chapter 94) after reading Caleb Crain on Melville's Secrets led me to the "jolly angel with the jar" in the poem below, a sestet embedded in the amber vase of Melville's prose sketch "Under the Rose":
      Specks, tiny specks, in this translucent amber:
      Your leave, bride-roses, may one pry and see?
      How odd! a dainty little skeleton-chamber;
      And—odder yet—sealed walls but windows be!
      Death’s open secret.—Well, we are:
      And here the jolly angel with the jar!
      “Under the Rose”  (Call Me Herman)
      Attributing the original verses to the Persian poet Sugar Lips, Melville's fictive narrator "Geoffrey" ostensibly gives the impromptu translation by a Greek polyglot under the influence.

      As Geoffrey explains at the start of the sketch, angel and jar appear in miniature "relievos" that adorn a particularly attractive amber vase of roses:
      “They were of a mystical type, methought, something like certain pictures in the great Dutch Bible in a library at Oxon setting forth the enigmas of the Song of the Wise Man, to wit, King Solomon. I hardly knew what to make of them; and so would as lief have seen the roses in their stead.  Yet for the grace of it, if not the import whichever that might be, was I pleased with a round device of sculpture on one side, about the bigness of my Lord's seal to a parchment, showing the figure of an angel with a spade under arm like a vineyarder, and bearing roses in a pot; and a like angel-figure clad like a cellerer, and with a wine-jar on his shoulder; and these two angels side by side pacing toward a meagre wight very doleful and Job-like, squatted hard by a sepulcher, as meditating thereon; and all done very lively in small.”
      So then, could Geoffrey's jolly angel and Ishmael's visionary angels with jars have been inspired by a similar, possibly traditional motif in some painting or engraving of paradise?   Turns out it's harder than I imagined to find a picture of an angel with a jar.  Then I remembered, John M. J. Gretchko found one in a Christianized map of the constellations.  In his 1990 note on "Herman Melville and Andreas Cellarius," Gretchko shows Melville's probable debt for several images in "Under the Rose" to the second of Julius Schiller's two star charts as published by Cellarius in the Harmonia Macrocosmica(Melvillean Ambiguities, 47-49)

      Harmonia Macrocosmica, Plate 23
      Second hemisphere with the Christianized firmament
      Angel with jar on shoulder, check. 
      Hydria Chananaea
      Yes it's a water jar, but look! it's that jar from the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus turned the water into wine.  So it's both, a water-jar and a wine-jar. 

      Gretchko takes the "cellerer" detail in Melville's sketch as an allusion to Cellarius.  Plausible enough, though something more seems to be going on with the garden and tomb imagery of "Under the Rose."  Melville's narrator Geoffrey specifically likens the reliefs in amber to bible illustrations, allegorical representations of the Song of Solomon.  A number of New Testament scenes familiar to Melville are traditionally associated with Christian readings of the erotically charged Song of Songs as an allegory of Christ and the Church, including the Cana wedding and Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, encountering the risen Christ as a gardener.

      Melville revisits Mary Magdalene's vision of Jesus as gardener in Clarel 1.5, in lines that recall also the engraving Melville owned by G. Levy after Rembrandt, Noli me Tangere. As Robert K. Wallace shows in his March 2000 Leviathan article on Melville's Prints.

      Clarel and where else, I wonder.

      Related posts:
      • Under the Rose