Friday, August 29, 2014

Herman Melville's burned-up Seneca

UPDATE 2: Check out the later Melvilliana post on marginalia in Melville's lost Seneca, as reported by Jay Leyda in vol. 1 of The Melville Log. Leyda described this volume of Seneca's Workes from the collection of Carl Haverlin as the 1620 second edition, not the 1614 edition.

Two volumes of Seneca, old (London, 1746) and older (1614!), are listed in the catalog at Melville's Marginalia Online. One survives in the NYPL Gansevoort-Lansing collection: the 1746 London edition of Seneca's Morals (Sealts 458). That's the volume Herman inscribed to his brother Tom:
"Thomas Melville from Herman Melville"; "My Dear Tom, This is a round-of-beef where all hands may cut & come again. Jan: 26th 1854. Pittsfield. Mass:"
Yow! For more on the book that does exist still in the physical world, see the update at the end, please. Ishmael definitely knew his Seneca:
"What matters it how many masters we have, when it is but one slavery?"
Seneca's Morals: By Way of Abstract
The 1614 volume (Sealts 457) most likely burned up in a fire. Reportedly it contained Melville's annotations as well as markings:
This copy of Seneca's Works was described to Merton M. Sealts, Jr., by Carl Haverlin, whose library in California was destroyed by fire on 4 January 1954. Among the contents of this 1614 edition of Seneca's Works is "The Life of Lucius Annaeus Seneca Scribed by Iustus Lipsius." --Melville's Marginalia Online
That lost, probably incinerated 1614 volume was published in London by William Stansby. First, let's see if we can find it. No luck just yet at Google Books. How about trusty Hathi Trust? Bingo! And what a treasure! Now that we have in a way rescued Seneca (not Melville's annotated copy you understand, but the same edition he had) from oblivion, let's check and see if this precious volume has Seneca's Letters from a Stoic.


His Epistles I see listed second in the Contents. Would those include Letter 47 on masters and slaves? I want to know, being lately re-interested in Seneca as perhaps the guiding spirit behind Ishmael's interrogative challenge, "Who aint a slave? Tell me that" in the first chapter of Moby-Dick.

Yes, that letter XLVII is here.

Only in this volume Seneca's servus "slave" is translated servant. So the whole letter deals with the right treatment of and relation to "servants" which is to say, slaves:
Is hee a servant? But happily a free man in minde. Is he a servant? Shall this hurt him? Shew one that is not. One serveth his lust, another his avarice, another ambition, another feare. I will shew you a man that hath beene Consul, serving an old woman. I will let you see a rich man serving a poore maid: I will shew you the noblest yong men, the very bond-slaves of Players. There is no servitude more foule, then that which is voluntarie. For which cause, thou hast no reason that these disdainfull fellowes should deterre thee from shewing thy selfe affable to thy servants, and not proudly superiour. --The workes of Lvcius Annaevs Seneca p238
But later the more usual translation of servus is "slave," thus:
Is he a slave? His mind may yet be free: is he a slave? Why should this prejudice you against him? Shew me the man who is not a slave. One is a slave to lust; another to covetousness; another to ambition; and all to fear. I can shew you a man of consular dignity, a slave to an old woman; a very rich man a slave to his handmaid; and many a young nobleman, who are the very bond-slaves of players. No slavery is more infamous than that which is voluntary: there is no reason, therefore, that some over-nice persons should deter you from shewing yourself affable and good-humour'd to your servants; instead of carrying yourself proudly as their superior. --The epistles of Lucius Annaeus Seneca
As Ishmael's subtext, Seneca aint no stretch. In the paragraph immediately before the one where Ishmael asks "Who aint a slave?" Ishmael invokes the Roman Stoic by name, presenting his brand of moral philosophy as the most consoling one around for downwardly mobile intellectuals:
The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it. --Moby-Dick, Loomings
Well, you can see why Melville liked old books. There's so much to marvel over in the 900-plus pages of this rich and rare old book, The Workes of Lucius Annaeus Seneca, both Morrall and Naturall. Translated, I almost forgot to mention, by Thomas Lodge.

More later--time to read.

UPDATE 1: Great news! that one surviving volume of Seneca from Melville's library (Sealts 458), the one he gave to his brother Tom in January 1854, also has the letter on masters and slaves. Numbered 17 for some reason--EPISTLE XVII.--, not the usual 47.

So let's cut again, now from the book Melville lovingly bestowed, Seneca's Morals: By Way of Abstract. Though not from his fifteenth edition which I don't yet see online. This passage I take to be the classical basis not only of Ishmael's "Who aint a slave?" challenge, but also Melville's critique of elitism in Francis Parkman's Oregon Trail:
When we affect to contemn savages, we should remember that by so doing we asperse our own progenitors; for they were savages also. Who can swear, that among the naked British barbarians sent to Rome to be stared at more than 1500 years ago, the ancestor of Bacon might not have been found? Why, among the very Thugs of India, or the bloody Dyaks of Borneo, exists the germ of all that is intellectually elevated and grand. We are all of us—Anglo-Saxons, Dyaks, and Indians—sprung from one head, and made in one image. --Melville's review Mr. Parkman's Tour
Here you go, Seneca on virtue as the true nobility, in this 1806 edition printed by John Prentiss under the headings, "We are all equal by blood" and "Tenderness to servants":
. . . The original of all mankind was the same, and it is only a clear conscience that makes any man noble: for that derives even from heaven itself. It is the saying of a great man, that, If we could trace our descents, we should find all slaves to come from princes, and all princes from slaves: but fortune has turned all things topsy turvy, in a long story of revolutions. It is most certain, that our beginning had nothing before it, and our ancestors were some of them splendid, others sordid, as it happened. We have lost the memorials of our extraction; and, in reality, it matters not whence we came, but whither we go. Nor is it any more to our honor the glory of our predecessors, than it is to their shame the wickedness of their posterity. We are all of us composed of the same elements; why should we then value ourselves upon our nobility of blood, as if we were not all of us equal, if we could but recover our evidence?

. . . It is worthy of observation, that the most imperious masters over their own servants are, at the same time, the most abject slaves to the servants of other masters. I will not distinguish a servant by his office, but by his manners. The one is the work of fortune, the other of virtue. But we look only to his quality, and not to his merit. Why should not a brave action rather dignify the condition of a servant, than the condition of a servant lessen a brave action? I would not value a man for his cloathes, or degree, any more than I would do a horse for his trapping. What though he be a servant! Shew me any man that is not so, to his lusts, his avarice, his ambition, his palate, to his mistress; nay, to other men's servants; and we are all of us servants to fear: insolent we are, many of us at home; servile and despised abroad; and none are more liable to be trampled upon than those that have gotten a habit of giving affronts by suffering them. What matters it how many masters we have, when it is but one slavery? and whosoever despises that is perfectly free, let his masters be never so many. --Seneca's Morals: By Way of Abstract, 1806 ed.
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1 comment:

  1. > "We are all of us—Anglo-Saxons, Dyaks, and Indians—sprung from one head, and made in one image."

    This certainly calls up again Ishmael's "great democratic God" in "Knights & Squires":

    "But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!"