Sunday, March 1, 2015

Prize for Ciphering Books, 1831

Old news, but it's nice to find the newspaper announcement of Herman Melville's 1831 school prize for "Ciphering Books" available online via Fulton History:
Herman Melville named
in the Albany Argus, Saturday, August 6, 1831
We know also the actual prize Melville received: a volume of The London Carcanet, now in the Beinecke Library at Yale.
Stamped in gilt on the front board: "Herman Melville." Labeled on the front pastedown: "Albany Academy. To Herman Melville the first best in his class in [words erased]. T. Romeyn Beck, Principal." Contains the bookplate of Alexander Orr Vietor. An article in the Albany Argus for 6 August 1831 mentions Melville's award: the first premium in the second class in ciphering books in the fourth department.  --Melville's Marginalia Online
But do we know what "Ciphering Books" means? Ciphering books are workbooks for doing exercises in practical arithmetic. Daboll's Schoolmaster's Assistant loomed large as the standard textbook.
"I'll get the almanack and as I have heard devils can be raised with Daboll's arithmetic...."  --Moby-Dick, The Doubloon
David K. Titus gives a detailed description of the arithmetic course in his important article on Herman Melville at the Albany Academy in Melville Society Extracts 42 (May 1980): 1 and 4-10).

Citing the Albany Argus of a few days later (August 9, 1831), Hershel Parker informs that Herman would have received his prize "at a solemn ceremony in the City Hotel." Our Argus article of the 6th indicates "Thursday last," following examinations from July 29th to August 3rd, which puts the City Hotel ceremony on Thursday, August 4, 1831. Three days after Herman's 12th birthday, if my math is right.

We might as well give the entire announcement of August 6, 1831 detailing the various premiums awarded by the Albany Academy. Looks like Frederick Leake had superb penmanship...But William Austin took the gold.
And something else: several class textbooks are named including Jamieson's Rhetoric.
Found in the great newspaper archives at Fulton History: Albany NY Argus 1831 -0745.

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