Sunday, June 14, 2015

"Hawthorne: A Problem" and Kingsley's Yeast: A Problem

Charles Kingsley. Photograph by Charles Watkins.
Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark

 Along with the earlier post on fluid consciousness, this one also was prompted by John Bryant's stimulating remarks in his Foreword to Steven Olsen-Smith's Melville in His Own Time, the new collection of nineteenth-century takes on Herman Melville.

Bryant draws attention to one of those those eternally brilliant letters to Hawthorne we are lucky somebody transcribed before it got lost. Hey, would that be....? Yes! it's the No! in thunder letter all right. Editorially dated 16 April? 1851, it's also the letter where Melville invents a curious and suggestive book title, "Hawthorne: A Problem." Early in the letter, Melville starts reviewing The House of the Seven Gables for his friend the author's private entertainment. The details of Melville's comments prove how carefully and appreciatively he read the novel Hawthorne had given him. And Melville's pretend criticism of his friend's new book for the so-called "Pittsfield Secret Review" locates another volume, even more rare and mysterious, about the author of Gables: one corner, there is a dark little black-letter volume in golden clasps, entitled "Hawthorne: A Problem." It has delighted us; it has piqued a re-perusal; it has robbed us of a day, and made us a present of a whole year of thoughtfulness; it has bred great exhilaration and exultation with the remembrance that the architect of the Gables resides only six miles off, and not three thousand miles away, in England, say.  --Herman Melville, letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, 16 April? 1851
Whatever it means, or suggests, Melville's title "Hawthorne: A Problem" imitates the title of a book by English clergyman, writer and social reformer Charles Kingsley. Imitates deliberately or coincidentally? Let's say deliberately. That might explain Melville's reference to a hypothetical author living "three thousand miles away, in England, say," When Melville named his make-believe book "Hawthorne: A Problem," Kingsley had recently published his real book edition of Yeast: A Problem (originally serialized in Fraser's Magazine).
Yeast, published in Fraser’s Magazine in 1848 and in book form in 1851, is more of a tract than a novel, in which Kingsley described rural England in the time of Chartist agitation. The plot describes the fate of Lancelot Smith, a wealthy young man, who changes his religious and social views under the influence of Tregarva, a philosophical game-keeper, who acquaints Smith with the social, economic and moral conditions of the rural poor. --The Victorian Web
For the most part American journals only began to notice Kingsley's "new" book in June and July 1851. The New York Literary World did not review Yeast: A Problem until June 28, 1851. However, one place Melville could have seen Hawthorne's name suggestively juxtaposed with Kingsley's Yeast: A Problem was in the May 1851 issue of the International Magazine, edited by Rufus W. Griswold:

The International Monthly Magazine 3 (May 1851): 160

The review of Kingsley's Yeast: a Problem immediately follows Griswold's long review-essay on Hawthorne. Merely to show availability of the May 1851 issue in April, here is a notice printed in the Hudson, New York Daily Star on Saturday, April 26, 1851:
The International Magazine for May, is a splendid No. containing among other biographical engravings, an excellent portrait of Geo. W. Kendall, editor-in-chief of the New Orleans “Pic.” Its typographical execution is superb, and from a hasty glance at its contents it appears superior, in a literary point of view, to any other work of the kind. It is for sale by C. B. Nash, at his News Room; price 25 cents only.
On Friday, April 25, 1851 the Albany Evening Journal announced that the International Magazine was available and "crammed with interesting matter":

Albany Evening Journal (April 25, 1851)
The 16 April? 1851 date for this particular letter from Melville to Hawthorne is tentative, as indicated by the editorial question mark and headnote in the Northwestern-Newberry edition of Melville's Correspondence. Melville dated it "Wednesday" so we only need a Wednesday before May 7, 1851 when Sophia Hawthorne paraphrased it for her sister Elizabeth Palmer Peabody. (In Herman Melville: Cycle and Epicycle, at page 106, Eleanor Melville Metcalf gave the date as October 2, 1851. NYPL lists letters with both dates in the Sophia Peabody Hawthorne collection of letters, Berg Coll MSS Hawthorne, S. m.b., although the accompanying digital images do not correspond to either date--for now.) The online calendar for April-May 1851 shows that other possible Wednesdays are the 23rd and 30th. April 30th would allow Melville time to have spotted the graphic and suggestive association of Hawthorne with Yeast: A Problem in the May 1851 International Monthly Magazine.

Probably we ought to read Kingsley's Yeast--for it's own sake of course, but (can't help it, sorry) also with an eye open for any sign that Melville knew more than the title. Who knows, we might get hooked and want to read Kingsley's earlier book on St. Elizabeth of Hungary, then Alton Locke and Westward Ho!

The Hathi Trust Digital Library lists three different copies of Charles Kingsley's Yeast: A Problem.  Here's one, digitized from the volume at Harvard:

No comments:

Post a Comment