Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mad or Zeid, or Khadija?

Detail of erased annotation in Channing's Works, vol. 3
Enhanced image of the full page is at Melville's Marginalia Online
Bottom margin] erased pencil x and annotation: 
"Could not this [point] with still m[ore]  
force be applied to Mahomet?‒who after 
age forty [&] less probably [mad], first delivered 
his Gospel?"  --Melville's Marginalia Online
Mad or Zeid? Zaid? Better yet (if that initial letter is a capital "K") how about Khadija? (alternatively, Kadija). Someday with improved technology we might find out for sure. Acknowledging that "technical methods of recovery are still in their infancy," Steven Olsen-Smith, General Editor of Melville's Marginalia Online, remains optimistic that
"The content of erasures in Melville’s marginalia, and the identities and motives behind it, will likely become clearer as technical means of recovery become more effective."
--Recovering Melville's Hand
While we're waiting on the right equipment... For essential background, popular biographies of the prophet Mahomet (an old spelling of "Muhammad") could be of some help in figuring out what Melville wrote in the erased, now partially recovered marginalia in the third volume of William Ellery Channing's Works. Melville's wife Elizabeth owned and also marked in the set of Channing's Works, given her by her father Lemuel Shaw.

Dawn Coleman reports on the marginalia in the June 2015 Leviathan and her Critical Introduction at Melville's Marginalia Online. It's good to know especially about the one page in volume three with previously unknown annotations by Herman Melville, discovery of which was prompted by Professor Coleman's research on Melville and Unitarianism. To be honest my eyes aren't all that sharp and I have not examined the physical book. Even so, I'm pretty sure Melville did not write the oddly inapt comment (Mahomet another nobody, though not so crazy as Jesus?) as transcribed in Professor Coleman's Leviathan article and currently reported at Melville's Marginalia Online. But what of that? No job so lonely and hopeless and quintessentially Melvillean as squinting endlessly at ERASED scrawls.

Most useful and succinct is the account by Thomas Keightley, reviewed in the Dublin Literary Gazette and National Magazine and republished many times, for example in Lardner's Outlines of Universal History:
“In the 40th year of his age, Mohammed announced to his wife Khadijah, his slave Zeid, his pupil Ali, and his friend Aboo Beker, a direct commission from God to preach the doctrine of his Unity."
"Outlines of History" from LARDNER'S CABINET CYCLOPAEDIA is listed as number 164 in the 1837 Catalogue of Books in the Library of the Albany Young Men's Association.

The longer summary below is from the article on "Mohammed and his Religion" by J. Llewelyn Davies in the May 1880 issue of Frank Leslie's Sunday Magazine:
Those who first believed in him were those who knew him best. He gained adherents very slowly. The first was his faithful wife, now between fifty-five and sixty years of age. "So Khadijah believed," runs the tradition, "and attested the truth of that which came to him from God. Thus was the Lord minded to lighten the burden of His prophet; for he heard nothing that grieved him touching his rejection by the people, but he had recourse unto her, and she comforted, reassured and supported him." Two other members of his household followed Khadijah. One of these was Zeid, an Arab of a Christian tribe, who had been taken captive and become a slave of Khadijah. By her he had been given to Mohammed, and so great an affection grew up between the slave and the master that Mohammed gave Zeid his liberty and made him his adopted son, and Zeid refused the permission offered him to return to his father and his tribe. Then there was the youthful Ali, a person of great importance in the history of Islam. He was the son of Abu Talib, and had been taken by Mohammed to be brought up as his son, and was now some thirteen years of age. It is said that the old Abu Talib saw Mohammed and Ali praying together, and that in answer to some inquiry which he made, Mohammed commended to him the new faith as the religion of God and of His angels and of His prophets, the religion of Abraham. Abu Talib replied, "I am not able, my nephew, to separate from the religion and the customs of my forefathers, but I swear that, so long as I live, no one shall dare to trouble thee." Then turning to his son, the youthful Ali, he said, "Well, my son, he will not call thee to aught but that which 'is good: wherefore thou art free to cleave unto him." A fourth amongst the earliest believers was Abu Bekr. He was an intimate friend of Mohammed, wealthy and of high character, who became an adherent without the least hesitation, and continued to be a stanch supporter and most useful associate. Ali became afterward a son-in-law, and Abu Bekr a fatherin-law, to Mohammed, and they were both caliphs or successors of the Prophet. It is said that in the first three or four years a small group of thirty or forty converts were the fruits of Mohammed's preaching.
The tenets of the religion adopted by these converts were but few: that there was only one God, and that Mohammed was His prophet; that a paradise of bliss awaited the faithful, and a terrible hell the ungodly; and that the faithful ought to be just.... --Frank Leslie's Sunday Magazine
Here's Washington Irving from a section of his biography headed "Conversion of Zeid":

Mahomet inculcates his doctrines secretly and slowly Receives further revelations and command.—Announces it to his kindred.—Manner in which it was received.—Enthusiastic devotion of Ali.—Christian portents.

For a time Mahomet confided his revelations merely to his own household. One of the first to avow himself a believer, was his servant Zeid, an Arab of the tribe of Kalb. This youth had been captured in childhood by a freebooting party of Koreishites, and had come by purchase or lot into the possession of Mahomet. Several years afterwards his father, hearing of his being in Mecca, repaired thither and offered a considerable sum for his ransom. "If he chooses to go with thee," said Mahomet, "he shall go without ransom: but if he chooses to remain with me, why should I not keep him?" Zeid preferred to remain, having ever, he said, been treated more as a son than as a slave. Upon this, Mahomet publicly adopted him, and he had ever since remained with him in affectionate servitude. Now, on embracing the new faith, he was set entirely free, but it will be found that he continued through life that devoted attachment which Mahomet seems to have had the gift of inspiring in his followers and dependents.

The early steps of Mahomet in his prophetic career, were perilous and doubtful, and taken in secrecy. He had hostility to apprehend on every side; from his immediate kindred, the Koreishites of the line of Haschem, whose power and prosperity were identified with idolatry; and still more from the rival line of Abd Schems, who had long looked with envy and jealousy on the Haschemites, and would eagerly raise the cry of heresy and impiety to dispossess them of the guardianship of the Caaba. At the head of this rival branch of Koreish was Abu Sofian, the son of Harb, grandson of Omeya, and great-grandson of Abd Schems. He was an able and ambitious man, of great wealth and influence, and will be found one of the most persevering and powerful opponents of Mahomet.*

Under these adverse circumstances the new faith was propagated secretly and slowly, insomuch that for the first three years the number of converts did not exceed forty; these, too, for the most part, were young persons, strangers, and slaves...
... Nothing discouraged by the failure of his first attempt, Mahomet called a second meeting of the Haschemites at his own house, where, having regaled them with the flesh of a lamb, and given them milk to drink, he stood forth and announced, at full length, his revelations received from heaven, and the divine command to impart them to those of his immediate line.
 '' Oh children of Abd al Motalleb," cried he, with enthusiasm, "to you, of all men, has Allah vouchsafed these most precious gifts. In his name I offer you the blessings of this world, and endless joys hereafter. Who among you will share the burden of my offer. Who will be my brother: my lieutenant, my vizier?"
All remained silent; some wondering; others smiling with incredulity and derision. At length Ali, starting up with youthful zeal, offered himself to the service of the prophet, though modestly acknowledging his youth and physical weakness.* Mahomet threw his arms round the generous youth, and pressed him to his bosom. "Behold my brother, my vizier, my vicegerent," exclaimed he; "let all listen to his words, and obey him."

The outbreak of such a stripling as Ali, however, was answered by a scornful burst of laughter of the Koreishites; who taunted Abu Taleb, the father of the youthful proselyte, with having to bow down before his son, and yield him obedience.
* By an error of translators, Ali is made to accompany his offer of adhesion by an extravagant threat against all who should oppose Mahomet.  --Irving's Lives of Mahomet, vol 1 
Another popular treatment, this from Treasury of History:
Mahomet was in the 40th year of his age when he assumed the character of a prophet; he had been accustomed for several years, during the month of Ramadan, to withdraw from the world, and to secrete himself in a cave, three miles distant from Mecca: “conversation,” says Mr. Gibbon, “enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.” During the first three years, he made only fourteen proselytes, among which were his wife Khadijah; his servant, or rather slave, Zeid Ali, who afterwards married the prophet's favourite daughter Fatima, and was surnamed “the lion of God:” Abubekar, a man distinguished for his merit and his wealth; the rest consisted of respectable citizens of Mecca. The Koreishites, although the tribe from which he sprung, were the most violent opposers of the new religion. In the tenth year of his prophetic office his wife died; and the next year, his enemies having formed a design to cut him off, and he being seasonably apprized, fled by night to Medina on the 16th of July, 622, from which event the Hegira commenced: he was accompanied only by two or three followers, but he made a public entry into that city, and soon gained many proselytes, on which he assumed the regal and sacerdotal characters. As he increased in power, that moderation and humility, which had before distinguished his conduct, were gradually erased, and he became fierce and sanguinary; he began to avow a design of propagating his religion by the sword, to destroy the monuments of idolatry, and, without regarding the sanctity of days or months, to pursue the unbelieving nations of the earth. The Koran inculcates, in the most absolute sense, the tenets of faith and predestination....
Possibly then Dr. Channing's reference to the humble circumstances of Jesus might have led Melville to recall and somehow note the key role of early converts in Mahomet's own household. According to any number of popular histories in Melville's day Mahomet's grand revelation--his "Gospel" (or is it "Qur'an?") of God's Unity--was first embraced by improbably domestic disciples: Khadija, Zeid, Ali, and Abu Bekr.

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  1. Love your post. But why not ignore the comma and read "had"?

    1. "had" is good and simple, way better than "mad." Prof. Coleman in her Leviathan discussion allows "The 'm' seems to be written over an initial graph that may have been an 'f' or an abortive capital." I was running with capital. Hey, is that a comma or "j"? If comma, there seems to be some extra blank space between the "d" in mad/had/kad/ and the punctuation mark.