Monday, March 2, 2015

Orations heard August 4, 1831 by ciphering whiz-kid Herman Melville

For a glimpse of Herman Melville's name listed among numerous award-winners at The Albany Academy, see the previous melvilliana post on Melville's 1831 prize for ciphering books. That old news is in the good old Melville Log, of course, and gets expert handling in volume 1 of Hershel Parker's Biography.

But here's something I don't recall seeing before, the list of orations delivered at the 1831 awards ceremony in City Hall. After the opening prayer by the Rev. Dr. Ludlow and a selection of music comes the "Delivery of Pieces, in Prose and Poetry, in the following order":
1. Griffith W. Griffiths. Extract from Ames’ Speech on the British Treaty.
2. William Cassidy Extract from Harper’s Speech on French Aggressions, 1794.
3. Nathaniel Niles. Extract from Clinton’s Address before the Phi Beta Kappa.
4. Henry Q. Hawley. Character of Columbus—Irving.
5. Charles Knower. Extract from Mr. Phillips’ Speech on the Destinies of America.
6. Charles E. Groesbeeck. On Missionary Efforts—Wayland.
7. John M. Bradford. Belshazzar’s Doom—Croly.
8. Abraham G. Lansing. Extract from “Hyperion,” by Josiah Quincy, 1768.
9. Wm. N. McHarg. Regulus—Dale.
10. Henry Waldren. The Star Spangled Banner—Key.
11. Wells. S. Hammond. Extract from Story’s Address before the Phi Beta Kappa.
12. Rensselaer Van Schelluyne. Speech of James Otis—Mrs. Childs.
13. Maunsell Van Rensselaer. Extract from an Address before the Albany Military Association, July 4, 1814.
14. John Furlong. Hotspur’s Description of a Fop—Shakespeare.
15. Isaac Staats. Marco Bozzaris—Halleck.
16. Wm. Austin. Extract from Rush’s 4th July Oration, 1814.
17. De Lancey Kane. Extract from Webster’s Speech, U. S. Senate.
18. Wm. J. Pohlman. Extract from an Address of Rev. Robert Hall, on the Prospect of an Invasion.
19. Thomas Frothingham. Cassabianca—Mrs. Hemans.
20. Nathan Hawley. Extract from an Oration by C. Sprague. [Possibly on Extirpation of the Indians?]
21. Stephen La Grange. Extract from John Hancock’s Oration, Boston, 1774.
22. Oliver H. Lee. Extract from the Speech of Robert Emmet.
--From the Albany [New York] Argus, Friday, August 5, 1831, Found in the newspaper archives at GenealogyBank
All these names show up in the List of Students in back of the 1863 volume, Celebration of the Semi-centennial Anniversary of the Albany Academy.

Isaac Staats (future Oregon emigrant) recited Halleck's poem Marco Bozzaris, which Melville's big brother Gansevoort had performed at the High School in New York City years before (December 1826). Halleck's poem and many other of the "Pieces" done at the 1831 awards ceremony may be found in The New Speaker, Or Exercises in Rhetoric by William Bentley Fowle. Here's another one, Belshazzar's Doom, recited in 1831 by John M. Bradford--a son let's suppose of the Melvilles' local minister (also named John M. Bradford), and brother of Gansevoort Melville's good friend Alexander W. Bradford.

For many interesting and significant details of Melville's schooldays, check out the great article by David K. Titus, "Herman Melville at the Albany Academy" in Melville Society Extracts 42 (May 1980): 1 and 4-10).

George Croly
Rev. George Croly (1780-1860)
via Wikimedia Commons


Hour of an Empire's overthrow! —
The Princes from the feast were gone,
The Idol flame was burning low ; —
'Twas midnight upon Babylon.

That night the feast was wild and high,
That night was Sion's gold profaned;
The seal was set to blasphemy —
The last deep cup of wrath was drained. 
'Neath jewelled roof and silken pall,
Belshazzar on his couch was flung;—
A burst of thunder filled the hall!
He heard — but 'twas no mortal tongue:— 
"King of the East! the trumpet calls,
That calls thee to a tyrant's grave;
A curse is on thy palace walls,
A curse is on thy guardian wave;

"A surge is in Euphrates' bed,
That never filled its bed before;
A surge, that, ere the morn be red,
Shall load with death its haughty shore. 
"Behold a tide of Persian steel !
 A torrent of the Median car;
Like flame their gory banners wheel:
Rise, King! and arm thee for the war!" 
Belshazzar gazed; the voice was past —
The lofty chamber filled with gloom;
But echoed on the sudden blast,
The rushing of a mighty plume.

He listened: —all again was still:
'He heard no chariot's iron clang; —
He heard the fountain's gushing rill,
The breeze that through the roses sang. 
He slept:—in sleep wild murmurs came;
A visioned splendor fired the sky,
He heard Belshazzar's taunted name;
He heard again the Prophet cry— 
"Sleep, Sultan! 'tis thy final sleep,
Or wake, or sleep, the guilty dies.
The wrongs of those who watch and weep,
Around thee and thy nation rise."

He started; 'mid the battle's yell,
He saw the Persian rushing on;
He saw the flames around him swell;—
Thou'rt ashes! King of Babylon.

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