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, the Scrivener by somebody who remembered 14 Wall Street.

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

St. Louis Republican - June 12, 1876
via State Historical Society of Missouri
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.
-- St. Louis Republican, June 12, 1876; found in the digital collections of The State Historical Society of Missouri.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Melville at a New York cafe, after bumping into John Godfrey Saxe (July 27, 1846)

Halleck in Central Park
Update2: Uh, if this is from the Charleston Evening News, then hey! maybe it's by Thomas Low Nichols writing as "Observer."  Parker in Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative (149-52) credits Kendall Spillman and Patricia Cline Cohen with finding regular letters from Nichols, "two or three letters a week" in 1846, to the Charleston Evening News. Nichols is the cat who advised Gansevoort to take the manuscript of Typee to London for publication there.

Hershel Parker likes to talk about special correspondents of nineteenth-century newspapers, how important they were as news gatherers and reporters, and yet how frequently they get overlooked, still, as sources of biography and cultural history.  The premier example in Parker's biography is the story of Melville and Hawthorne together at the hotel in Lenox, nobly retold from facts and hints in a letter by "Maherbal" to a Vermont newspaper. That's at the close of Volume 1. You can read more about the hunt for Maherbal in Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative. There also Parker reveals that before he got sidetracked, he
"longed at some indefinite time to write a book about special correspondents of American newspapers before the Civil War." (Parker, Inside Narrative)
Here's something else for that unwritten work, from the New York correspondent of a Virginia newspaper (if I have this right), the Richmond Evening News. Update: or is the source a South Carolina newspaper, the Charleston Evening News? The writer's identity is a current mystery, the re-printing below from the August 5, 1846 Alexandria [Virginia] Gazette lacks even a pseudonym. It remains to be determined, if this NY correspondent was "special" enough ever to have a pen name, and regular appearances in the Richmond newspaper. Well, we did figure out finally who Maherbal was, and Proteus, so maybe we can chase down this guy too.

Wow, look! Herman Melville with the author of Progress: a Satirical Poem at a Manhattan cafe on Monday, July 27, 1846. Among the New York literati, briefly at least in the company of poets and one yet-to-be-named journalist with a weakness for French dancers and phrases. Not a Virginian?


Correspondence of the Evening News.

NEW YORK, JULY 28, 1846.

Just as I had concluded my too hasty letter, yesterday, for the brevity of which I beg to apologise, there was handed me a letter of introduction, which commended, to my courtesies, the bearer, and one paragraph of which I take leave to transcribe. "He is a lawyer by profession: a wit and poet by force of genius; and a good fellow by nature. His most conspicuous faults are, that he is a strong locofoco and an incorrigible punster. If you can tolerate such serious vices I have no doubt that you will find his acquaintance an agreeable one." The gentleman thus introduced to me, was a six foot tall, and otherwise conspicuous Vermonter, dressed a la green mountains; or, as we sometimes say, in a mountainous fashion. He came from and belongs to the very north-west corner of that verdant State, where Lake Champlain joins the Canada line. But I found him all that my letter described him, and something more. He is a literary protege of Oliver Wendell Holmes, our first comic poet, and John Saxe will be, if he is not now, the second. In fact, his business in New York at this moment is to publish, what I think the critics will pronounce the best satire that has appeared in--say twenty years. 
With the advent of my humorous and poetical Vermonter commenced one of those days which a man cannot avoid noticing as remarkable. Certainly, in a month before, I had not run against and almost stumbled over so many literary celebrities. The first man we met was Clark the Editor of the Knickerbocker, happy in having just finished the last revise of his August num­ber, and ready to burst with all the good jokes he had bottled up, like Champaigne, in his Editor's Table. He was quite overflowing with the good humor which sparkles in the pages of his particular department. Contracting to meet at Niblo's in the evening, we parted, and turning a corner with my Vermont poet, we ran against the author of Typee, Mr. Herman Melville. 
He had just returned from Buffalo, where he had been to see his ci devant companion in the Marquesas. There, alive and well, and not eaten up by the savages, was the veritable Toby, the companion of his sufferings, and for whose fate he had entertained so many apprehensions.
Toby saw the first notice of "Typee," in the New York Evangelist. He went directly to a bookseller in Buffalo, and asked, "Have you got Typee?" "No! we have had it, but they are all sold."

"Have you read it?"

"Oh! yes, it is a charming book."

"Does it say anything of the author having a companion in Typee?"

"Toby, yes; to be sure. Here was Toby, who disappeared mysteriously, and was eaten up by the amiable cannibals."

"Not a bit of it,"--said the querist, "I am Toby!"

"You?  Well, I declare, you do answer the description. Are you really? How did you get away, then?"

I don't know all the conversation, but it became noised round that the lost Toby was found. The ladies flocked to see him. They begged locks of his glossy ringlets--the daguerreotypers took portraits of him; in short he was a lion.
Richard Tobias Greene
Melville, as I said, went to see him, and has given his adventures in escaping from Typee, as a sequel of the second edition.
While sitting with my two lions in the Cafe, who should come in but a brace of poets, beside, of whom we had been talking an instant before. They were Fitz Green Halleck and William Wallace. Of the former, as a literary man, I need not speak; the latter is still young, under thirty, but for two years past has made long strides towards the highest rank in literature, and has written verses which seem as likely to live as any which are produced at the present day. 
Melville, who I am sure never wrote a stanza or a couplet in his life, is a modest, and personally not a very remarkable man, but our three poets have strong peculiarities, the younger ones especially.

Mr. Halleck, born in the State of Connecticut, has the quiet tone and dignified bearing of an English Lord. Brought up in a democratic and puritan community, the friend of Drake, the companion of Bryant, the author of Marco Bozzaris, he is a monarchist and high tory in his politics, and a Roman Catholic in religion. These, at all events, are the opinions he maintains in conversation, and I have no reason to doubt his sincerity.

But my young friends, my other pair or poets, are quite the reverse of all this. They talk loudly, and extravagantly--they repeat their own verses--they make no pretense of a modest opinion of their merits--they are both Democrats, of the most radical kind, and though one is all humor, and the other all sublimity, it was wonder­ful to see how much they resembled each other.

We were fated to meet celebrities--in passing out we encountered Tuckerman, powerfully moustached, and evidently thinking of his "Thoughts on the Poets." Then McG-----, an Irish literateur, with English predilections so strong, that the highest compliment he was known to pay an American book, was, that it read as if written by an Englishman!

Before getting a block up Broadway towards Niblo's, we met Haas, the most skillful of Daguerreotype artists, formerly lithographer to the Government, walking arm in arm with Professor Mapes, who is distinguished as a sculptor, musician, poet, engineer, chemist, agriculturist, and I know not what beside--the only successful man of universal genius I ever met; quite an oracle, and an admirable Critchton!

At Niblo's was a full and brilliant House, with the Mayor sitting in the centre of the pit, and Mademoiselle Blangy, the prettiest dancer we have had, if not the greatest, danced La Sylphide, so as put the whole audience into a state of mild extacy. It was quite ravishing, and if this danseuse makes the Southern tour next winter, you are to be congratulated.
 (Alexandria Gazette, Wednesday, August 5, 1846; found at genealogybank.com)

Apparently Melville stayed back at the cafe. Tuckerman his eventual friend was on his way in, was this their first meeting? Perhaps they merely happened to be in the same place at the same time. From the sound of it, the Author of Typee and new sequel did not walk up Broadway with Saxe and company to catch Mlle. Hermine Blangy at Niblo's. Or did he?