Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cooper's The Prairie and John Marr


Some years ago we showed Melville's debt in John Marr to the sketch of Oregon Emigrants by J. Henry Carleton in Occidental Reminiscences or Prairie Logbooks. Another source for John Marr is James Fenimore Cooper's The Prairie. When Melville calls John Marr "no geologist" after quoting the ex-sailor's impression of the prairie as "the bed of a dried-up sea," Melville is engaging with the particulars of Cooper's introductory scenic description in the first chapter of The Prairie.

The earth was not unlike the Ocean, when its restless waters are heaving heavily, after the agitation and fury of the tempest have begun to lessen. There was the same waving and regular surface, the same absence of foreign objects, and the same boundless extent to the view. Indeed so very striking was the resemblance between the water and the land, that, however much the geologist might sneer at so simple a theory, it would have been difficult for a poet not to have felt, that the formation of the one had been produced by the subsiding dominion of the other. ...  (The Prairie)
Blank stillness would for hours reign unbroken on this prairie. "It is the bed of a dried-up sea," said the companionless sailor—no geologist—to himself, musing at twilight upon the fixed undulations of that immense alluvial expanse bounded only by the horizon, and missing there the stir that, to alert eyes and ears, animates at all times the apparent solitudes of the deep. But a scene quite at variance with one's antecedents may yet prove suggestive of them. Hooped round by a level rim, the prairie was to John Marr a reminder of ocean. (John Marr)
In John Marr's view of the prairie as "the bed of a dried-up sea," Melville succinctly restates Cooper's poetical and speculative idea of how the prairie emerged originally from a "subsiding" ocean. But the real giveaway is the geologist. Melville borrows him, too, for much the same effect. True, geologists confirm the prairie used to be "covered by a warm, shallow inland sea." But Cooper's view in The Prairie is openly impressionistic and opposed, artificially, to the long, scientifically distant view of geologic time. Cooper contrasts his poetical view with the hard science of that sneering geologist. Melville then has Marr adopt Cooper's impressionistic view, along with the narrative device of the imaginary skeptic. Bert Bender gets it, even without reference to Cooper, explaining the operative contrast with reference to another fictive geologist:
The old sailor realizes that “it is the bed of a dried-up sea.” But Melville adds, emphatically, that Marr was “no geologist,” no mere scientific doubter like the villainous Margoth in Clarel(Sea-Brothers)
No sneering geologist like Margoth, Marr is more like Cooper's poetically minded narrator in the first chapter of The Prairie. As a sailor, however, Marr is presented as more perceptive than Cooper's narrator.  Melville makes a point of this difference, in the course of engaging with Cooper's language. Cooper described the boring "absence of foreign objects" as characteristic alike of prairie and sea, but here Melville turns critical and improves Cooper, by insisting on the presence at sea of  motion and vitality, "the stir" of life and living creatures that remains perceptible to "alert eyes and ears."

Yes the prairie is very like the sea, but with a difference that sailors who pay attention would know.

With further study, more parallels to John Marr could probably be found in The Prairie. Yep, here's another one...

Still, the leader of the emigrants steadily pursued his way, with no other guide than the sun, turning his back resolutely on the abodes of civilisation, and plunging, at each step, more deeply if not irretrievably, into the haunts of the barbarous and savage occupants of the country. (The Prairie)
To the long-distance traveller the oak-groves, wide apart, and varying in compass and form; these, with recent settlements, yet more widely separate, offered some landmarks; but otherwise he steered by the sun. (John Marr)
Related melvilliana post:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Briggs wanted Melville's portrait for Putnam's

If somebody gave me $35,000 right now I would happily grab this 1854 Melville letter offered at Biblioctopus.
In the 1993 Northwestern-Newberry edition of Melville's Correspondence, Lynn Horth gives the necessary context (apparently Melville's submission of the rejected magazine piece,"The Two Temples"), without however listing this particular item. Where has it been all these years?  Aha, I see John Gretchko wondered the same thing back in November 2010, in a post to the Google Group Ishmailites, back in November 2010.

Now, Biblioctopus gives a delightfully juicy description of the letter which alas! tries hard to hype its significance as a witness to "the critical turning point in Melville's career." That stuff about Melville's "departure from literature" and dying in poverty is legendary, of course, but stuff. Hey it's a genuine Melville letter written from Arrowhead with highly pertinent content from his career as a magazinist. More than enough significance for me!  (As soon as my unknown benefactor sends me that 35 grand.)

It looks like they might need help reading the handwriting of Charles F. Briggs at the top of the page. Biblioctopus gives the first part of Briggs's note, covering the rest with ellipses: 
“Melville wants the MS sent to his brother Allan. I have written to him and I think you had better write to him… B.”
Over at Booktryst, Stephen J. Gertz offered a more complete transcription:
“Melville wants the MS sent to his brother Allan. I have written to him and I think you had better write to him, and get […] to […] Curtis. It will be the best one for his public and the Maga. B.”
 Here's what I see from the image online: 
“Melville wants the Ms. sent to his brother Allan. I have written to him, and, I think you had better write to him, and get his portrait to follow Curtis's [or Curtis ' ?]. It will be the best one for the public and the Maga. B.”
Briggs wanted Melville's portrait to appear in Putnam's Magazine, after that of George W. Curtis. As prompted by Briggs, George P. Putnam himself duly wrote Melville on May 13, 1854:
We wish very much to have your head as one of our series of portraits. Curtis will be in the July No. Have you not some drawing or daguerreotype that you can lend us? -- Or can you oblige us by having a daguerreotype taken in Pittsfield & let us know the cost, which will be remitted at once? (Letters Received, Correspondence 637)
Do send us your portrait for the magazine--and, oh yes, "We hope you will give us some more of your good things." What a lovely rejection!

Well we also know Melville preferred not to oblige Putnam with his head. Something more might be made of that. Especially considering the earlier wrangling with Evert Duyckinck, over the same request, leading to that great line in Pierre (1852): "To the devil with you and your daguerreotype!"  But to Putnam, Melville politely excused himself as just a country farmer:
"About the Daguerreotype, I don't know a good artist in this rural neighborhood."
(Letter to George P. Putnam, 16 May 1854, Correspondence 261)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Herman Melville, seven of his works, his wife, and and both lawyer brothers remembered in California, 1854


Here are two items from the short-lived Daily Placer Times and Transcript of San Francisco, California. Both are available in the Newspaper Archives at GenealogyBank

Adding a few new errors along the way, the Times and Transcript took some delight in correcting the comically inept reporting of a rival paper.

From the Daily Placer Times and Transcript, Thursday, November 16, 1854:

THE RIP VAN WINKLE OF THE PRESS—The News, last evening treated its readers with the following astounding announcement:
Among the arrivals by the Golden Gate, we notice that of S. Ross Browne, of Washington City, well known to literateurs as the author of “Typee, or a Voyage Thither,” “The Howadji, or Travels in Syria and Egypt,” “Two Years before the Mast,” etc., and will be recollected by old Californians as the official reporter of the Convention that drafted the existing constitution of our State. For the past two years Mr. B. has been engaged as chief clerk in one of the Departments at Washington. Of the object of his visit here at the present time we are not advised, but take the liberty to express the wish that he may be induced to give to the reading public his impressions of California as she presents herself to the tourist in 1854.
The reliability of the news we had considered unimpeachable, but this out Herods all newsmonger’s gossip we ever met with. Mr. J. Ross Browne did not arrive by the Golden Gate, nor is he the author of any of the works mentioned above, and the object of his presence is well known. Mr. Browne has been in the country since July last, in his capacity of Government Fiscal Agent, examining the accounts of civil, naval, military, land and Indian office officials on the Pacific coast, and as such has visited Oregon, and nearly all the posts in our State. Mr. J. Ross Browne is well and favorably known as “Yusuf” in the literary world, and stands in the same niche of popular estimation as Mr. Herman Melville, the author of “Typee,” Mr. Curtis, the “Howardje,” and the Rev. Mr. Dana, the author of “Two Years Before the Mast.”
However gratifying it may be to Mr. Browne to be classed as the source of such distinguished literary effort, we feel justified from his proverbial modesty, in setting our neighbor correct on this point. Mr. J. Ross Browne arrived in the Goltah from a visit to the Indian Reserve at Tejou, with the affairs of which we are gratified to learn he felt much pleased. That Mr. Browne will give the world his impressions of the American possessions on the Pacific we feel a certainty, and to none more able could such a task be committed.

Below is the follow up article, also from the Daily Placer Times and Transcript, Friday, November 17, 1854:
RIP VAN WINKLE IN SEARCH OF INFORMATION.—To relieve the “intense anxiety” expressed by the News, in regard to our remarks on the distinguished literary honors it bestowed on Mr. J. Ross Browne, and the queries it levels at us, we would state that Herman Melville is the bona fide baptismal and paternal appellation of a distinguished son of the State of New York, he having been born in Duchess county, of a staid and respectable Knickerbocker family. He is, we believe, the second of three brothers, all of whom have become men of note. Actuated by a roving disposition, after his collegiate education, he ran away from home and made a voyage in a whaler round the world, and on his return gave to the reading public his impressions of travel in “Typee” which, from its peculiar style, was accepted by the literary world as an ideal composition presented under an assumed name. His eldest brother, Gansevoort Melville, died in London whilst filling the position of Secretary of the U. S. Legation, under the Hon. Louis McClane, to which place he was appointed by President Tyler. His remaining brother is a lawyer of considerable repute as a chamber practitioner, whose “shingle” we have seen on the fan-light of No. 14 Wall street, New York. With both gentlemen we are happy to be acquainted. So far as regards Melville being a “nom de plume,” it is nowhere disputed that Mr. H. M. did write Typee, Omoo, Mardi, Redburn, White-Jacket and Bartleby the Scrivener; and moreover he is the author of the admired serial novel now in course of publication in Putnam’s Monthly, entitled “Israel Potter, or Fifty Years of Exile,” a national tale of the early days of our confederacy, written in an entirely different style from any of his previous works. Mr. M. now resides on his farm at Berkshire, Massachusetts, with his family, his wife having been a Boston belle, in company with G. P. R. James, Rev. H. Ward Beecher, and like kindred coterie, as neighbors.
Mr. Curtis, the “Howadji,” is the author of those widely read satire known as the “Potiphar Papers,” and as such the public were made acquainted with his physiognomy by means of an admirably executed steel engraving, which adorned a late number of Putnam’s Monthly. He is also a newspaper man, being one of the New York Tribune’s host of contributors. Mr. Richard H. Dana, Jr., the author of “Two Years before the Mast,” is a lawyer of Boston, who has rendered himself conspicuous in the late slave case in that city.
Having satisfied the News as to the gentleman, we need scarcely remark, that the error in spelling “Howadji,” and the prefixture of Rev. for Rich., were merely typographical errors, and would not, with others, have appeared but for an incidental omission of proof reading.
About the typos, maybe so--but President Polk appointed Gansevoort Melville, not Tyler. Also the writer neglects to mention Herman Melville's younger brother Thomas, and does not know that Herman was born in New York City. And wait, what happened to Moby-Dick and Pierre?

Still, the November 17th item provides a friendly and knowing treatment--and you gotta love the rare mention of Bartleby, by somebody who remembered 14 Wall Street.

Notice of Clarel ("by an unknown author") in the St Louis Republican

CLAREL. A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land; by Herman Melville.—This is a long poem in four parts, viz.: Jerusalem—In the Wilderness—Mar Saba—Bethlehem, and two volumes. Think of it in these days of lightning and steam; two volumes of songs about the Holy Land and other holy things by an unknown author. Five hundred and seventy-one pages duodecimo of rhymes, and chimes, and bells, and knells.  The poem of Clarel is more than twice as long as “Paradise Lost.” New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
The St. Louis Republican, June 12, 1876
found in the newspaper collections at Missouri Digital Heritage