Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dana mentions Melville, October 1853

John Parker Hale
Library of Congress
On Thursday, October 13, 1853 in Boston, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. publicly invoked "[my] friend Herman Melville" in the course of a brief address at Tremont Temple in honor of John Parker Hale. The occasion was the presentation of a special medal to then Senator Hale from New Hampshire, in commemoration of his role in securing the abolition of flogging in the navy. Dana spoke on behalf of the sailors who had commissioned the medal for Hale months before, in early June. As related in the Boston Atlas on Friday, October 14, 1853:


The Tremont Temple was well filled last evening, upon the occasion of the presentation of a Gold Medal to Hon. John P. Hale, by the seamen of the sloop-of-war Germantown, as a testimonial to his efforts in abolishing the use of the lash in the Navy. The meeting was called to order by Dr. J. W. Stone, who regarded the gathering as a cheering omen in the moments of political excitement, that irrespective and independent of party, the vast audience came together to honor a representative man; one whose whole life exhibited him as the friend of all mankind....
After remarks by honorary president Henry Wilson, prayer conducted by the Rev. Dr. Jenks, and some further comments by the Rev. Phineas Stowe and Moses Grant Dana delivered his speech, again as reported in the Daily Atlas:
RICHARD H. DANA, Jr., Esq., on rising to make the presentation, was warmly received. After narrating the various modes of triumph by which men are honored in this world, he addressed Mr. Hale, as having at the hazard of power and popularity, devoted his energies for the obscure and the humble, for men who had no means of requiting such service, and when at length he was successful, it was a triumph far above all others. The military and naval service being of necessity measures of force; it had come to be regarded that they must be sustained internally by force, consequently, while the horrors of war had been ameliorated through Christianity and civilization, captives were no longer put to death, captured cities were not burned, and non-combatants were released on parole, the abolition of the lash was reserved as one of the last reforms.
In all times the public scourge had been deemed the depth of degradation,—a degradation deeper than that of the block or the scaffold, and while eighteen hundred years ago, it was the boast that a Roman citizen could not be scourged, until the 28th Sept., 1850, an American citizen could be scourged under the waving of the stars and stripes, and in the sight of foreigners who made little claim to the acknowledgment of human rights.
Mr. Dana said he wished to add his testimony to the fact that this horror of the gangway, the lash, prevented many men from engaging in the service of the mercantile marine. His friend, Herman Melville, had expressed the same sentiment, and he had no hesitation in saying that more men had been killed at the gangway than at the guns. Many persons who at first expressed doubts on the expediency of the abolition of the lash, had since acknowledged they were in error, and that favorable results had followed from it. He confessed he was somewhat doubtful on the subject of carrying the act into immediate effect, but he whom he had the honor to address was a man of more faith, and he had now the satisfaction of realizing all that he could have anticipated. As the organ of the sailors who tendered to him this evidence of their respect, he entreated that among the triumphs which may yet await him, he would not forget this, their humble testimonial.
Mr. HALE, in reply, said it was pleasant and gratifying to reflect that one’s services, however humble, had been appreciated, and in a labor so important, it was an additional gratification that the consequences of the act were fixed beyond a peradventure. He then proceeded to relate the progress of the efforts in Congress for the abolition of the lash, from the first proposition introduced by him in 1844, till the measure was carried. In these labors he made honorable mention of Mr. Webster and Mr. Benton, which was enthusiastically cheered. As evidence of the good effects of the measure, he gave the testimony of Capt. Nicholas, Com. Lavallette, Capt. Long, and others.
The exercises were interspersed with music by he Chelsea Brass Band, and after the adoption of a series of resolutions, the meeting was closed.

(Boston Daily Atlas, October 14, 1853, available online in the Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank)
Earlier that year, in May 1853, Dana recommended Melville for a diplomatic appointment. It's good to find Dana in October publicly and comfortably affirming his friendship with Melville. Without the Boston Atlas we might never have known, since other reports fail to include the Melville mention. The Boston Herald, for example, skips right over Dana's nod to "his friend Herman Melville":
In all ages public scourging has been deemed the depth of degradation, but until the 28th day of September, 1850, the American sailor could be publicly whipped on board a national vessel. The horror of the gangway has kept the best of seamen from the navy. More men have been ruined in the gangway than have been slain in battle....

(Boston Herald, Friday, October 14, 1853; available online in the Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank)
Also missing in the Herald report is Dana's reference to "the mercantile marine." The Herald report has Dana referring simply to "the navy." But as reported in the Atlas, Dana invokes Melville specifically on this point with reference to "the mercantile marine."  Melville, says Dana, with me believes that the fear of flogging keeps good men out of the mercantile or merchant marine.  Is Dana thinking of a published view, something from one of the chapters against flogging in White-Jacket?  Or does he mean that Melville expressed this corollary opinion about flogging and the merchant marine in a letter—or verbally, at a dinner party?

Update: From the Boston Atlas report, it does sound like Dana was offering additional insight from his own experience as a merchant sailor. Famously narrated in Two Years before the Mast.  And Dana's practical manual The Seaman's Friend specifically explains "sea terms, customs and usages of the merchant service."

In any case the crowd loved it. According to the glowing report in the Pennsylvania Freeman (October 27, 1853), the "immense audience" at Tremont Temple warmly approved everything: "The presentation speech by Mr. Dana and Mr. Hale's reply were both eloquent and stirring, and the responses of the audience enthusiastic."

Several accounts describe the medal awarded to Senator Hale:
The Medal is from the manufactory of Messrs. Guild & Stevens, Boston. Its design and workmanship evince great taste and skill on the part of the manufacturers. The Medal is not, as usual, an impression from a die, but is worked from the solid metal, by process of manufacture. It consists of an oval plate, bearing upon one side the following inscription:—
"Presented to the Hon. John P. Hale by the crew of the sloop-of-war Germantown, as a mark of their appreciation of his efforts in securing the abolition of flogging in the U. S. Navy, Oct 13, 1853."
On the other side, an engraving represents a scene on shipboard. It supposes flogging to exist, and the barbarous act is again to be repeated. The victim stands with nude back, turning away from his fellows in conscious degradation, while the boatswain's mate, with the instrument in his hand, is ready to strike—when over the other side appears the advocate of Humanity, and, stretching forth his hand, says, "Stop!" displaying to view the law. The centre is surrounded with appropriate designs. At the top is the upper portion of the capstan, spars, cords, blocks, &c; at the sides, filling from staffs, from the top, the national flag, which falls, and appears to mingle in its folds the surrounding objects, consisting of nautical implements. (The Hale Medal Presentation, [Boston] Liberator, October 21, 1853; found at GenealogyBank.com)
And look who's listed among the presiding officers: Dr. J. Ross Dix, named as one of the honorary Secretaries! (Presentation of the Hale Medal, Boston Herald, October 14, 1853)

No comments:

Post a Comment