Thursday, October 8, 2015

American Masonic Register and Literary Companion

The New York Public Library has the first two volumes of this splendid yet generally overlooked resource for the study of not only freemasonry and the capital region of New York state, but also American life and literature before the Civil War. Issues from 1839-1840 cover the period leading up to Herman Melville's departure in early January 1841 for Cape Horn and the Pacific on the whaleship Acushnet.  Both volumes are digitized at Google Books. I stumbled on volume one while hunting up Charles Whitney in Albany. Published in Albany by Lewis G. Hoffman, the American Masonic Register and Literary Companion was a weekly journal devoted to
"Masonry, Arts and Sciences, Biography, Sketches of Character, Manners and Customs, Popular Tales, Miscellany, Poetry, Literary and General Intelligence, &c. &c."
For more on Melville and freemasonry, check out the essay by James Emmet Ryan, Melville in the Brotherhood, in the 1997 collection Melville "Among the Nations" (ed. Sanford E. Marovitz and Athanasios C. Christodoulou). Ryan's bibliography includes references to Hennig Cohen on "Melville's Masonic Secrets" in Melville Society Extracts 108 (March 1992); and the earlier scholarship of Michael N. Stanton, "Masonic Symbolism in Melville's Pierre" in Melville Society Extracts 49 (February 1982).

For a random taste of interesting connections to Melville's writings, the October 5, 1839 number in volume one contains a selection from Travels in Africa titled Mungo Park in the Desert; and a passage from William Ellery Channing on The Company of Books (from "Self-Culture") that seems embraced, extended, and highly amplified in Mardi:
... if Milton will cross my threshold to sing to me of Paradise; and Shakspere to open to me the worlds of imagination and the workings of the human heart; and Franklin to enrich me with his practical wisdom— I shall not pine for want of intellectual companionship, and I may become a cultivated man though excluded from what is called the best society in the place where I live.
From the chapter titled Dreams in Melville's Mardi:
Like a grand, ground swell, Homer's old organ rolls its vast volumes under the light frothy wave-crests of Anacreon and Hafiz; and high over my ocean, sweet Shakespeare soars, like all the larks of the spring. Throned on my seaside, like Canute, bearded Ossian smites his hoar harp, wreathed with wild-flowers, in which warble my Wallers; blind Milton sings bass to my Petrarchs and Priors, and laureate crown me with bays. 
Somehow Melville worked Mungo Park in there, too:
... I walk a world that is mine; and enter many nations, as Mungo Park rested in African cots.
Then in the same issue there's The Last of His Tribe, a poem by "Isabella" of the Albany Female Academy. Opening volume 2, one of the first articles there treats the captivity of Ethan Allen in England during the American Revolution. Melville wrote Ethan Allen into chapters 21 and 22 of Israel Potter.

Some histories give 1826 as the year that Lewis G. Hoffman established the American Masonic Register, but weekly issues in these volumes run from the last day of August 1839 through August 1841.
New York State Museum has a page by Stefan Bielinskiy on the Albany Masonic Lodge

Below, the digitized volumes one and two of the American Masonic Register and Literary Companion at Hathi Trust Digital Library. Volume 1 has weekly issues from the end of August 1839 to August 29, 1840:

and Volume 2 with weekly issues from September 5, 1840 to August 28, 1841:


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