Monday, July 7, 2014

Bulwer's very fine book Zanoni

Zanoni is Sealts no. 334 in the catalog of Melville's reading, as shown at Melville's Marginalia Online. Whereabouts unknown--the bibliographic entry by Sealts gives the two-volume Harper 1842 edition as the most likely one with "very fine print" owned by Melville. In late April and early May 1850, Harper & Brothers advertised the revival of Zanoni as No. 142 in their cheap and popular Library of Select Novels series. That series, which eventually grew to more than six hundred titles before it was done, actually started with Bulwer. But I can't find a trace of this particular reissue at Google Books or World Cat or Abebooks. Strictly ephemeral?

The 1850 re-publication of Zanoni by Harper & Brothers elicited the following criticism in a Utica newspaper, the Oneida Morning Herald:
We are puzzled to know the meaning of the word “select” as used in this connection; their “Library” containing a mixture of good and bad, of trashy and able. Zanoni is not worthy of any collection of fictitious works, judiciously chosen from the best authors. It bears the stamp of Bulwer’s genius and acquirements, it is not destitute of power and is superior to ninety-nine hundredths of the novels with which the press has groaned for the last 20 years. It is inferior, however, to most of the productions of Bulwer, in thought, beauty, and interest, is disfigured by high wrought tragic scenes, worthy of a place in the works of men whose rivalry he would scorn, and its lessons of morality cannot without violence be praised for sternness....
(early May 1850, found at Old Fulton NY Post Cards)
On April 27, 1850 the Troy NY Daily Whig noticed this latest Harper edition as "one of Bulwer's old works, revived in a cheap form" and pronounced it "a little better" than average.
--Old Fulton NY Post Cards

And it's a hard road, it's a hard road daddy-o
When my job is turning lead into gold --Van Morrison, Philosopher's Stone
What a book!  Melville got it (along with Harriet Martineau's The Hour and the Man) from Sarah Morewood and thanked her, in between Moby-Dick and Pierre:
"Zanoni" is a very fine book in very fine print—but I shall endeavor to surmount that difiiculty. --Letter to Sarah Huyler Morewood, 12? September 1851
Zanoni's early advice to Viola about struggling toward the light, repeatedly recalled in Bulwer's "Rosicrucian Tale," is the closing message of Melville's poem The Enthusiast:
Though light forsake thee, never fall
From fealty to light.--The Enthusiast
 "And," said the Cavalier, turning back, and gently laying his hand on hers — "And perhaps before we meet, you may have suffered; — known the first sharp griefs of human life; — known how little what fame can gain, repays what the heart can lose; but be brave, and yield not — not even to what may seem the piety of sorrow. Observe yon tree in your neighbour's garden. Look how it grows up, crooked and distorted. Some wind scattered the germ, from which it sprung; in the clefts of the rock; choked up and walled round by crags and buildings, by nature and man, its life has been one struggle for the light; — light which makes to that life, the necessity and the principle: you see how it has writhed and twisted — how, meeting the barrier in one spot, it has laboured, and worked, stem and branches, towards the clear skies at last. What has preserved it through each disfavour of birth and circumstances — why arc its leaves as green and fair as those of the vine behind you, which, with all its arms, can embrace the open sunshine? My child, because of the very instinct that impelled the struggle — because the labour for the light, won to the light at length. So with a gallant heart, through every adverse accident, of sorrow, and of fate, to turn to the sun, to strive for the heaven; this it is that gives knowledge to the strong, and happiness to the weak. Ere we meet again, you will turn sad and heavy eyes to those quiet boughs, and when you hear the birds sing from them, and see the sunshine come aslant from crag and housetop to be the playfellow of their leaves, learn the lesson that Nature teaches you, and strive through darkness to the light!" --Zanoni, vol 1, book 1 chapter 4
Imagery in another poem by Melville, "Fragments of a Lost Gnostic Poem of the 12th Century," is featured in Bulwer-Lytton's paraphrase of Iamblichus on Pythagoras

Your mind is fevered by a desire for truth; you would compel it to your embraces; you would ask me to impart to you, without ordeal or preparation, the grandest secrets that exist in nature. But truth can no more be seen by the mind unprepared for it, than the sun can dawn upon the midst of night. Such a mind receives truth only to pollute it; to use the simile of one who has wandered near to the secret of the sublime Goetia, (or the magic that lies within nature, as electricity within the cloud.) ‘He who pours water into the muddy well, does but disturb the mud.’ " --Zanoni vol 1, book 3 chapter 4
In the second volume Bulwer-Lytton recalls the proverb, again with application to the wavering disciple Clarence Glyndon:
Oh, well said Zanoni, "to pour pure water into the muddy well does but disturb the mud." --vol 2, book 4 chapter 6
The later instance of the proverb in Zanoni specifies "pure water," which makes for a closer parallel to the "clear" water of Melville's poem:
The Good Man pouring from his pitcher clear
But brims the poisoned well. --Fragments of a Lost Gnostic Poem
Bulwer's probable source, the translation by Thomas Taylor of Iamblichus's Life of Pythagoras (London, 1818), reads "pure and clear water":
For they infuse theorems and divine doctrines into confused and turbid manners. Just as if someone should pour pure and clear water into a deep well of mud; for he would disturb the mud, and destroy the clear water.  --Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras
Later: Leon Howard argues for the influence of Zanoni on Melville's Pierre in the Historical Note to the Northwestern-Newberry edition. I had forgotten how extensive and detailed a treatment Howard gave Zanoni there. For the large view we now have Arthur Versluis on The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. And something recent and rich about Anarchic Alchemists, including, hey, a whole chapter on Zanoni, the Scarlet Letter, and Pierre.

Hathi Trust Digital Library has the Harper & Brothers 1842 edition of Zanoni  (NYPL volumes):
Zanoni vol 1
Zanoni vol 2

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