Monday, November 30, 2015

poems as soldiers

The Grand Review at Washington
Harper's Weekly, June 10, 1865 via The Civil War

Commentators often quote from the bracketed preface to Battle-Pieces, but rarely do they notice how Melville imagines his collected poems in military terms as soldiers or rather groups of soldiers on parade.
[With few exceptions, the Pieces in this volume originated in an impulse imparted by the fall of Richmond. They were composed without reference to collective arrangement, but, being brought together in review, naturally fall into the order assumed....]
One notable exception is Juana Celia Djelal, who recognizes the military metaphor and reads it as Melville's self-presentation of "an enlisted man in the war of wayward winds." --Melville's Antithetical Muse: Reading the Shorter Poems

Sounds good to me, though in his role of self-editor (rather than poet) I'm tempted to rank him higher. Having composed his Civil War poems, Melville then had to organize them for publication. The act of organizing and presenting his verses is compared to a military review in which Melville as commanding officer (Colonel, say, but ultimately General) arranges his men/verses in their proper formations and superintends their marching/publication in front of hopefully an appreciative crowd. Being well-drilled, these figurative men "naturally fall into the order" of squads, platoons, companies, and battalions that General Melville has assigned them in his brigade of a book.

The Official Homepage of the United States Army helpfully diagrams the formal Organization of Units and Commands

For the sake of exercise I extended Melville's basic metaphor thus:
Squad = line of verse
Platoon = stanza
Company = single poem
Battalion = section of poems (thematically or structurally related, perhaps)
Brigade, Division, or Corps might aptly represent a book of poems, or multiple books.
For an improved, more historically accurate model we should consider Civil War Army Organization
and introduce regiments:
The regiment was the basic maneuver unit of the Civil War.
(Closer to home, another helpful site is the Minnesota Historical Society's page on Civil War Military Organization ) Regiments (ten companies) usually began with 1,000 men and were led by colonels.

New York Tribune, Monday, May 22, 1865

Melville's most immediate frame of reference for thinking of poems as soldiers in ceremonial review would have been the spectacular Grand Review held May 22-23, 1865 in Washington. The Grand Review was much on the poet's mind and specifically inspired "The Muster," as the full title of that poem acknowledges:

The Muster 

Suggested by the Two Days' Review at Washington.

(May, 1865.)

Harper's Weekly for June 10, 1865 features suitably grand illustrations of the event, like the one below of Sheridan's Cavalry (minus Sheridan) passing through Pennsylvania Avenue, May 23, 1865.

Image Credit: Brown Digital Repository
Joyce Sparer Adler's important study of War in Melville's Imagination deals with the theme of war-or-peace. Figurative language and imagery of war receive sustained attention in the chapter on Moby-Dick:
"War imagery characterizes not only the scenes of battle with the whale but all portrayals of ship and crew; of roles and relationships; of goals, machinery, and methods."
Cited examples include painted whaling scenes that "remind Ishmael of battle pictures lining the gallery of the triumphal hall at Versailles"; and the metaphor of military ordnance in the "clamped mortar of Ahab's iron soul."

It could be fun and potentially useful to compile a fuller list or index of Melville's military metaphors. For this project I'm most interested in Melville's use of military terms as figures of speech that signify something else. Such an index I'm guessing would be surprisingly extensive.

For a start, here's a good one from Melville's surviving correspondence. The military metaphor in this letter represents printed letters of the alphabet as soldiers and their weapons. Melville writes from Boston to Evert Duyckinck on February 24, 1849:
I have been passing my time very pleasurably here, But chiefly in lounging on a sofa (a la the poet Grey) & reading Shakspeare. It is an edition in glorious great type, every letter whereof is a soldier, & the top of every "t" like a musket barrel. 
--Correspondence, Northwestern Univ Press, ed. Lynn Horth
Image Credit: Newberry Digital Exhibitions

Saturday, November 28, 2015

More on "the parting volley" in Sheridan at Cedar Creek as funeral volley

A recent melvilliana post went to some trouble trying to get at the pathos of the parting volley in Melville's Civil War poem "Sheridan at Cedar Creek." In the early eighties Bernard F. Engel made easy work of the main idea--in parentheses:
(The horse as well as the general is also heroic in Melville’s poem “Sheridan at Cedar Creek,” one of the few wartime pieces by Melville to gain even moderate public attention. But Melville ends his celebration with recognition of the anonymity of the dead. As the funeral volley is fired, the speaker reflects on “the pathos deep,” the fact that “There is glory for the brave” but “no knowledge in the grave / Where the nameless followers sleep.” Other poets often wrote of wartime death, of course. But they wrote to glorify. Few Americans wanted to hear the suggestion that glory is meaningless to the ordinary soldier, and even fewer wanted to be told that the dead know nothing.)   
--Lincoln, Twain, Certain Lesser Midwestern Poets, and the Civil WarGreat Lakes Review 8-9 (1982-1983), 43-4.
Now I see Aaron Shackelford also nailed it in his doctoral dissertation (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2012):
"A series of gunshots honor the fallen: "It is the parting volley, / It is the pathos deep." --Unfamiliar War: Literature & Trauma in the American Civil War
Here's the fuller reading of what Dr. Shackelford calls the "elegiac final stanza":
The final stanza of “Sheridan at Cedar Creek” attempts to shift from the heat of battle
into a more direct elegiac mode. “Shroud the horse in sable – / For the mounds they heap!” (31-32). Here, Rienzi does not have an empty saddle, but nonetheless takes on the representational task of mourning the fallen soldiers who have thus far remained effaced in favor of the patriotism of the moment. Cloaked in black, Rienzi is meant to stand in for the heaps of the dead, avoiding the gruesome details of their deaths in favor of the shrouded horse. A series of gunshots honor the fallen: “It is the parting volley, / It is the pathos deep” (34-35). These bullets, though, do not hit flesh. Instead they only evoke an emotional response of pathos that shapes how the men are remembered, rather than the effects of bullets during the battle itself. The memory of the battle – and its victims – that was created by the patriotic fervor of the previous three stanzas is the same as the comprehension of the battle created in this elegiac final stanza.  --Aaron Shackelford, Unfamiliar War
There's plenty of room for further discussion, obviously. We can argue all night about different critical angles and readings, reconsidering facts as well as rethinking conclusions. For instance, it's hard to believe Melville would presume to claim the dead know nothing. Nothing more of earthly strife, perhaps. But as the poet says in The Armies of the Wilderness, only the dead can learn anything more when it comes the "riddle of death, of which the slain / Sole solvers are." War heroes may get their share of glory but it's their knowledge that stops at the grave. They, we, don't even know the names of the persons buried there. To know what the nameless dead know, you have to go where they are. Moby-Dick offers the similar thought:
"the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it."
For all of that it's still nice to agree on a couple of basic ideas about what's happening in the last stanza of Melville's Sheridan poem in terms of mood (mournful) and setting (after the battle).

Funeral honors, from the Revised United States Army Regulations, of 1861:
293. After the funeral service is performed, and the coffin is lowered into the grave, the commander will order, 
1. Attention! 2. Shoulder—ARMS! 3. Load at Will. 4. LOAD! 
When three rounds of small arms will be fired by the escort, taking care to elevate the pieces.


Related melvilliana post:

Friday, November 27, 2015

Melville's cameo role in Nation-Famous New York Murders (1914) by Alfred Henry Lewis

Image Credit: Ron Scheer - Buddies in the Saddle
Among other things eastern journalist, muckraker, biographer, and western storyteller Alfred Henry Lewis wrote fictionalized tales of real-life crime. One of Lewis's supposedly true crime stories, originally published in the March 1913 issue of Pearson's Magazine, features a brief but fascinating appearance by Herman Melville. I don't remember seeing any notice in Melville scholarship of Melville's cameo role in Nation-Famous New York Murders (published in book form by the G. W. Dillingham Company in 1914). Another melvilliana exclusive? I stumbled over it while hunting up published mentions of Melville's Civil War poem, "Sheridan at Cedar Creek."

In his dramatic account of the Harvey Burdell murder case, Lewis definitely gets his facts mixed up about Herman Melville. Essentially Lewis has magically transported the 1880's Melville thirty years back in time, to Manhattan on a cold winter's day in early 1857. Specifically (as clarified in the revised book version), January 28, 1857. Impossible for Melville really to have been there, since most of that month he spent in Jerusalem and Lebanon on his 1856-7 Mediterranean tour. Melville's The Confidence-Man would be published in April 1857. The year before, Melville (still living in Pittsfield) was composing "The Piazza" to induce his forthcoming volume of magazine stories titled The Piazza Tales. Lewis's Melville, however, is already a curmudgeonly New Yorker, another frustrated writer employed in the Custom House. Lewis misquotes the line from "Sheridan at Cedar Creek" and miscalls it (as did Stoddard in his published Recollections) by the title of Buchanan Read's poem "Sheridan's Ride."

Some facts of Melville's life Lewis might have got from the biographical introduction to Typee by Arthur Stedman, son of Edmund Clarence Stedman who is also a character in the Burdell chapter of Nation-Famous New York Murders. As shown below, however, the most interesting factual details are reworked from the autobiography of Richard Henry Stoddard. When Melville shows up for dinner at the brand new Metropolitan Hotel, he joins the table of fellow writers Stoddard, Bayard Taylor, and George Henry Boker. Stedman sits at a nearby table with fellow lawyers David Dudley Field and Charles O'Connor. Lewis seats Fitz-James O'Brien at another table with Frederick Swartwout Cozzens (both fresh from Pfaff's beer cellar) along with Walt Whitman. At one point in the literary table-talk, Melville's gloomy looks remind O'Brien of Hamlet, "the melancholy Dane." Lewis makes O'Brien laughably ignorant of Melville and his reputation ("Never heard of him."). One year after the events recorded by Lewis, O'Brien would critically survey Melville's entire career to date in the April 1857 issue of Putnam's Monthly Magazine.

Excepting Stoddard, the literati at the Metropolitan as described by Alfred Henry Lewis are mostly Pfaff's regulars.

Despite his numerous factual errors, Lewis does seem to know something about Melville and other literary New Yorkers in the 1870's and 1880's especially. He knows, for instance, about the Century Club, about Stoddard's job at the Custom House and Stoddard's Echo Club. Much if not all this knowledge derives from Stoddard's Recollections, Personal and Literary. For example, Stoddard remembers that Bayard Taylor "had learned by heart" the "Opium Fantasy" poem by Lowell's wife. And when Lewis makes Cozzens say
 "Stoddard insists that next to Emerson he's the great American mystic."
the words of Stoddard are quoted verbatim from Stoddard's 1903 book, Recollections, Personal and Literary.

Intentionally or not, Melville's unfriendly critique of Mrs. Lowell's poetry as "privately published" for good reason is heavily ironic given Melville's later choice to privately publish two volumes of his own poetry, John Marr and Timoleon in limited edtions of 25 copies each. Below, Lewis's fictionalized glimpse of Herman Melville at the Metropolitan Hotel with links to the magazine and book versions of Nation-Famous New York Murders:
While waiting for the coming of Officer Matzell, with his word about Burdell, suppose we look about the room. It should be as good a way of killing time as any other.

Over near a window are Bayard Taylor, the poet Stoddard, and Boker who wrote Francisca da Rimini in which Miss Julia Dean is playing at Wallack's.

The sepulchral Herman Melville enters, and saunters funereally across to Taylor, Stoddard and Boker.

Beyond them sits Edmund Clarence Stedman, with lawyers David Dudley Field and Charles O'Connor.

The second table from the door is taken by "Sparrow Grass" Cozzens and Fitz-James O'Brien, who have adjourned from Pfaff's beer cellar near Leonard street where, under the Broadway sidewalk, they were quaffing lager, and getting up an appetite for dinner on onions, pretzels and cheese. They have with them Walt Whitman, who, silently and wholly wanting jn that "barbaric yawp," is distinguished by what William Dean Howells—ever slopping over in his phrase-making—will one day speak of as his "branching beard and Jovian hair."
...
"By the way, I've got a treasure," exclaims Taylor; "it's a copy of Mrs. Lowell's poems. They were privately printed, you know."

"May I see it?" asks the sepulchral Melville.

"It's in my desk at the Tribune office. There's one poem in it, An Opium Fantasy, which struck me greatly. It runs like this:
Oh, it is but a little owl,
The smallest of its kin,
That sits beneath the midnight cowl.
And makes its airy din.
"'And makes its airy din,'" repeats the lugubrious Melville, more sepulchral than ever. "I can understand why it was printed privately."'

Melville, soured by several failures, is inclined to cynicism in the presence of the poems of others. He has not yet written, you must remember, his Sheridan's Ride, which will begin, "Oh, shoe the horse with silver which bore him to the fray."

Taylor pays the bill, and he and the others depart for Stoddard's house in Third street, where their Echo Club is to have a meeting.

"Who's the melancholy Dane?" demands O'Brien, as the trio go talking themselves into Broadway.

"That's Melville," says "Sparrow Grass." "Thought you knew him. Works with Dick Stoddard in the Custom House."

"Never heard of him," returns the case-hardened O'Brien.

"Never heard of him? You amaze me! Why, he's written Typee, and Omoo and Mardi. Stoddard insists that next to Emerson he's the great American mystic."

O'Brien receives this with a Celtic grunt. "He looks as if he were," says he.

There is Matzell now; the broad, thick, stocky personage with the police expression of face. Wood greets him with the off-hand manner practised by New York mayors when they deal with members of the police.
--Pearson's Magazine Volume 29 - March 1913; and

--The Bond Street Mystery in Nation-Famous New York Murders
Other chapters of special interest to Melville fans deal with riots from the perspective of New York City police officers: one on the 1863 Draft Riots (subject of "The House-Top" in Battle-Pieces) and another on the 1849 Astor Place riots (before which Melville had co-signed a published letter backing Macready). The book version of the Burdell chapter gives Melville extra lines of dialogue that are not present in the magazine version. In the book, Lewis introduces Bayard Taylor's recitation of  Maria White Lowell's "An Opium Fantasy" by having Melville ask forlornly:
“You’ve been up to Cambridge?” put in Melville, glancing gloomily across at Taylor. “You’ve seen Lowell and the Atlantic Monthly crowd ?”
Maria White Lowell via Digital Commonwealth

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mrs. Pritchard and Mrs. McEwen

Where have I heard this before?

In the telling of it, the stout patriotism displayed by Mrs. Hetty M. McEwen in Frank Moore's Women of the War (1866) sounds quite like the heroic action of Mrs. Pritchard in Tahiti as described by Herman Melville twenty years before, in Typee (1846).

Moore's Mrs. McEwen remains loyal to the Union while dwelling in Nashville. She demonstrates her "high-spirited defiance" of secessionist treason by boldly flying the Stars and Stripes:
When secession was talked of, with her own fingers she stitched together the folds of bunting, and reared the Red, White, and Blue on a flag-staff in the yard of the residence that had been known as theirs almost from the time when Nashville was an Indian fort. As treason grew less and less odious, the flag was subjected to various insults. Boys threw stones at it. The papers noticed it, and advised its removal. Colonel McEwen received an anonymous letter full of plantation venom, and threatening assassination unless the odious colors were removed. --Women of the War 511
When the Rebels come for her flag, Mrs. McKewen goes for her gun:
When at length the machinations of Governor Harris culminated, and Tennessee was made to appear of secession preferences by forty thousand majority, Colonel McEwen fastened a pole into one of his chimneys, and nailed the national colors where they could float solitary, yet dauntless and defiant, over the rebellion-cursed city. The hostility now became fiercer than ever. He was told that the flag must come down from that roof if they had to fire the house to bring it down. He asked his wife what they had better do about the flag, adding that he would sustain her in any course she thought best to adopt. "Load me the shot-gun, Colonel McEwen," said the heroic old lady. And he loaded it for her with sixteen buckshot in each barrel. "Now," added she, "I will take the responsibility of guarding that flag. Whoever attempts to pass my door on their way to the roof for that star-spangled banner, under which my four uncles fell at King's Mountain, must go over my dead body!"  --Women of the War 511
As told by Frank Moore, Mrs. McKewen's verbal parting shot neatly echoes the admirable speech of Melville's equally defiant (though unarmed) Mrs. Pritchard.

Mrs. McKewen:
"Not long after, Governor Harris issued an order for all fire-arms to be brought to him at the state-house, and enforced it by sending a squad of soldiers to Colonel McEwen's house. In reply to their demand she said, "Go tell your master, the governor, that I will not surrender my gun to any one but himself, and, if he wants it, to come in person and risk the consequences."  --Women of the War 512
Mrs. Pritchard:
“Tell the pirate your master,” replied the spirited Englishwoman, pointing to the staff, “that if he wishes to strike those colours, he must come and perform the act himself; I will suffer no one else to do it.” --Typee
No such verbal parallelism occurs in Lucy Hamilton Hooper's poetic treatment. There Mrs. McEwen defies the Nashville traitors outside while tending her dying son, apparently with no need of a shotgun or other weaponry.
Came the day when Fort Donelson
Fell, and the rebel reign was done;
And into Nashville, Buell, then,
Marched with a hundred thousand men,
With waving flags and rolling drums
Past the heroine's house he comes;
He checked his steed and bared his head,
"Soldiers! salute that flag," he said;
"And cheer, boys, cheer!—give three times three
For the bravest woman in Tennessee!" --United States Service Magazine
Looks like an interesting case of mutual borrowing. Frank Moore edited the Rebellion Record which Melville used when composing many of the poems in Battle-Pieces (1866). Around the same time, Moore compiles Women of the War (1866) under the influence of Melville's Typee.

For more on Mrs. McEwen, the University of Virginia Library holds a collection of papers that
chiefly revolves around Robert Houston McEwen (1790-1868) and his wife Henrietta "Hetty" Montgomery Kennedy McEwen (1796-1881).
The headnote on scope and content reports the "McEwens were a well-known and prosperous family" that "was also known for its piety and patriotism."

Carole Stanford Bucy contributes an entry for Hetty Montgomery Kennedy McEwen in the online Tennessee Cyclopedia of History and Culture. AnSearchin News profiles Hetty Kennedy McEwen as "a woman who stood her ground fearlessly" in the series Tennesseans I Wish I had Known.

Portrait of young Hetty McEwen, attributed to George Dury
Image Credit: Case Antiques

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Allan Melville's 1865 passport application

Eyes blue like his brother Herman's. George Henry Brewster, Allan's law partner and Herman's friend, served as witness to vouch for Allan's identity.

Fold3: Military Records

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pathos of the parting volley

I heard the muffled drum beat slow,
I heard the soft flute's tones of woe,
I saw the coffin in the ground,
And the loud volley fired around—
And many a manly veteran there,
With faltering step and brow of care.
Dashed from his eye the tear that fell
In token of a last farewell.   
--Lines on the Funeral of an English Officer in Spain, 1813 by "Isabel"
The "pathos deep" in Melville's Civil War poem Sheridan at Cedar Creek refers to natural human feelings of grief while burying the dead after battle. Pathos means "that which excites emotions," feelings which here might well include other of the so-called "tender emotions": pity, and fear, along with strong grief. Grief we all know as terribly real yet mostly inexpressible in words. If we have to have words, we want them in poetry and song like the "Lines" by Isabel quoted above, not carefully reasoned prose. Not to speak of vultures and wolves, mass graves or hopelessly shallow holes, the pathos of funeral rites in wartime may still be felt and shared by readers with, if not a shared experience of your messmate's death in a terrible place, at least a common fate. Do not ask for whom. Of necessity soldiers in action could seldom observe proper last rites. Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War will tell us more, no doubt. PBS made a movie of it called Death and the Civil War. Another likely source for relevant information is The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead by Meg Groeling. I'm wondering now specifically about the tradition of the "parting volley" to which "Isabel" alludes in her "Lines" quoted above, and to which Melville also refers in the last stanza of "Sheridan at Cedar Creek." Republic of Suffering is ordered. While we're waiting for Faust, let's see what Google turns up.

Ira Seymour Dodd alludes to "ghoulish burials" after battle. In the strictly relative comfort of "settled camp," the frequency of funerals permitted only the "scantiest ceremony" which did nevertheless feature "a parting volley over the grave":
There are no funerals on the march; there are none after battle. On the march, if a man falls out of the ranks stricken with mortal sickness or exhaustion he is left to be picked up by the ambulance, perhaps to die alone by the way. The column cannot halt. After battle, there are but ghoulish burials. But in settled camp the decencies of death are rudely observed.The first funeral in our company was that of one of our serjeants, a young man whom we all loved. He died shortly after Christmas-time. A box of good things from home had lately arrived; out of the boards of that box we managed to make a coffin for our dear comrade and the whole company marched to his grave. But the most of our dead were buried without coffin and funerals became too common for any but scantiest ceremony. A drum and fife playing the Dead March, a firing squad of three to give a parting volley over the grave, then the chaplain, then the body of the dead soldier wrapped in his blanket and carried on a stretcher by two men followed perhaps by half-a-dozen intimate friends, and that was all.  --Ira Seymour Dodd, Song of the Rappahannock
In the same mood and equally relevant to Melville's Civil War context is this July 1863 description of burial rites in camp, submitted by one North Carolina correspondent of the Auburn, New York Advertiser:
A SOLDIER'S BURIAL.
It is really a sad sight, and one that can not fail to leave a deep and melancholy impression upon the heart, to witness the performance of the last solemn rites to the remains of a departed comrade. A burial: a sad duty among all conditions of life, and under every circumstance; but to lay a loved one gently 'neath the turfs and flowers of home, is not attended with such utter loneliness as characterizes the interment of a soldier in a distant state, far from home and weeping friends. The preliminary preparations are brief. As soon as death has ensued, the body of the deceased is placed in a rude pine coffin and conveyed to the place of burial; his comrades, with a slow and steady tramp, and "arms reversed," sadly follow their old companion's remains to the grave side; while the band, with muffled drums "beats the soldier's last tattoo."— The body is soon lowered to its final resting place, the earth is restored to its place, and a small new mound marks the spot where lies in obscurity another soldier of the army of the Union. A parting volley is fired over the grave, and he is left, "to sleep the sleep that knows no waking."  --3rd Artillery Regiment (Light) NY Volunteers
From the Manchester (New Hampshire) Weekly Union, Tuesday, September 27, 1864:
At Pine Bluff, a strong garrisoned town, surrounded almost by a bayou whose stagnant waters under a torrid sun became green with a loathsome scum, “the muffled drum beat,” and parting volley mark daily, nightly and hourly the last of a soldier. 
Necessity might only permit the barest of formal honors, even for heroes of the American Revolution, as when they buried Colonel James Willliams at King's Mountain:
The next morning, for want of suitable conveyance, the friends of Colonel Williams concluded to bury his remains were they were. They were accordingly interred with the honors of war, between the camp of the patriots and the river, a little above the mouth of Buffalo creek—on what was long known as the Fondren, then the old Carruth place, now belonging to Captain J. B. Mintz. Having performed this touching service, and fired a parting volley over the newly made grave of one of the noted heroes of the war of independence, the army, late in the day, renewed its line of march apparently up Broad river....  --King's Mountain and its Heroes
Obsequies in the camp of General Hooker, as reported (a month before the Battle of Chancellorsville) in the Boston Traveler, March 31, 1863:
"The funeral of a private is attended by a corporal and eight men who march with reversed arms to the sound of solemn music, and the last honors—three volleys of musketry—are duly given over the soldier’s grave." 
Derek Hartley's online article at Veterans United helpfully explains the "Symbolism of Military Funerals" including the tradition of "firing three volleys from rifles":
A long-standing military tradition was to honor the dead by showing their weapons were no longer hostile. Whereas naval fleets traditionally discharge seven rounds in commemoration, their on-land counterparts were able to shoot three times as many for a total of 21. 
However, at most military funerals what many mistake for a 21-gun salute is actually an honor guard team firing three volleys from rifles. This tradition comes from traditional battle ceasefires where each side would clear the dead. The firing of three volleys indicated the dead were cleared and properly cared for.  --A Final Salute
So then, unaided as yet by Faust we learn that military funerals traditionally and ideally include the "firing of three volleys from rifles." Moreover, the ceremonial "parting volley" served a practical function on the field of battle, signaling "the dead were cleared and properly cared for." Of course there's another kind of military parting volley, meaning gunshots rattled off either in real or apparent retreat, or at the fleeing enemy. Some sources explain the verbal type of parting shot, witty and devastating, as a corruption of Parthian shot. (Others disagree: one interesting dissent is offered by Michael J. Sheehan at Wordmall.) In Sheridan at Cedar Creek Melville pointedly evokes then promptly excludes the hostile sort of parting volley:
Shroud the horse in sable—
     For the mounds they heap!
There is firing in the Valley,
     And yet no strife they keep;
It is the parting volley,
     It is the pathos deep.
--Melville's Sheridan at Cedar Creek-Poetry Foundation
After the battle, the "firing in the Valley" Melville describes is only (only!) the usual ceremonial "parting volley" over the grave. In this case, over many graves or heaped "mounds" for who knows how many corpses. The thematic twist or turn away from hero worship at the end of Sheridan at Cedar Creek is real enough:
There is glory for the brave
               Who lead, and nobly save,
               But no knowledge in the grave
     Where the nameless followers sleep.  --Sheridan at Cedar Creek
But the irony in the grave at the end of Melville's poem is finally existential and thus no fault of any war hero who is not also Lord of the Universe (or better, and less blasphemously, the Dark Lord of this world, the Arch Enemy). Lately even the ablest of Melville critics like Tony McGowan in the October 2015 Leviathan detect backhanded blame for Union officers including Sheridan. In the particular case of "Sheridan at Cedar Creek," however, readers looking for evidence of Melville's impulse to deflate overblown military reputations should not overlook the precise denotation of "parting volley" that Melville settles on. The "volley" in Melville's A Dirge for McPherson is likewise the parting volley of military last rites. In "Sheridan at Cedar Creek," Melville's last musket-shots fire over hurriedly heaped mounds of the unknown dead. Fittingly, the parting volley he depicts is ceremonial and the experience of it profoundly sad--more pathetic than ironic.
"With a parting volley, his surviving comrades and friends left the noble gentleman and gallant officer to that sleep which shall know no waking save that of the last trump which shall proclaim the end of time.”  --United States Army and Navy Journal
How burials actually happened at Cedar Creek I don't know. Key details in Melville's poem are taken from newspaper accounts (Sheridan's waving his hat) and pictures (the horse's foam flakes are shown in the Harper's Weekly cover of November 5, 1864). Perhaps in similar fashion, details of Melville's treatment of burial practice in and after battle might derive from a contemporary newspaper account. Melville's singular "grave" of plural "followers" in the penultimate line seems gloomily suggestive of a mass grave-trench. And with Faust at hand now via Kindle, I'm newly inclined to read Melville's contrast of "glory for the brave" and oblivion for "nameless followers" as possibly an implicit reference to the "privileged treatment" accorded to dead officers, Union or Confederate (Faust's This Republic of Suffering, p77).
"The sadness of these burial scenes cannot be imagined." --Civil War in America
However it was, having brought us graveside to mourn (as often happens in individual poems of Battle-Pieces and structurally, too), Melville does not need to undermine anybody's act of heroism. Indeed, the pathos of it all depends on first appreciating brave deeds then confronting their ultimate futility. Sheridan himself admitted and lamented his inability to give names of all the fallen:
I submit the following list of the corps, division, and brigade commanders, who were wounded in the campaign, the killed having already been especially noticed, regretting that the scope of this report will not admit of my specifying by name all the many gallant men who were killed and wounded in the numerous engagements in the Shenandoah valley.... --The Rebellion Record
That Melvillean twister at the end--where knowledge ends and you confront The Void--is awful, just insofar as when Melville's speaker calls horse and rider "brave," and says "nobly" done, he really means it.
"PATHOS, n. [Gr.] ...that which excites emotions and passions."
Pathos may be out of vogue, but Melville embraces it.
Glorious PHIL. SHERIDAN," as the soldiers call him, mounted on a favorite horse, now almost jaded, hove in sight, and hearing of the contest, he started from Winchester, with an escort of 275 men and when first seen near the field he had less than thirty men with him, so rapidly had he traveled. Riding through the fields to the left of the pike he passed along in front of the Sixth and Nineteenth corps. Such cheering, such wild enthusiasm I never heard or had any conception of before. Talk of popular favorites -- SHERIDAN was the most popular man in the world at that moment: his presence inspired confidence more than what he said. Riding along the line, recognizing the greeting he received by waving his hat, he uttered modest words of encouragement and good cheer. Hundreds of eyes, unused to the melting mood, were dimmed with tears at that moment, and all thanked God for the return of Gen. SHERIDAN. This should not be considered as any disparagement to Gen WRIGHT, who, up to this time, had been in command; he, personally, had been vigilant and active, but circumstances were against us, and at the right moment the real Commander arrived. A man not grateful for such a welcome would be less than human -- his heart must be stone.  --New York Times, October 27, 1864 


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Saturday, November 21, 2015

West Coast Moby-Dick

Here on the prairie it's 16 degrees Fahrenheit as I write and we expect sleet at least for Thanksgiving. Further or is it farther west they're reading Moby-Dick on the beach. Party starts today, hosted by the Venice Oceanarium:
"Join the celebration and shared reading of the complete book, Saturday, Nov. 21 and Sunday, Nov. 22, from 8 am to 10 pm both days at the end of Windward Avenue, on Venice Beach near the breakwater rocks."  --Yo! Venice
For details with audio, click the whale at the Venice Oceanarium website.


More info is also available at Venice Paparazzi.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Gansevoort Melville reports to Andrew Jackson from "the Jerusalem of Whiggery" (Lexington, KY) in September 1844

Image Credit: Library of Congress
One month before Herman Melville arrived in Boston harbor on the frigate United States:

Private & Confidential
Lexington KY September 15, 1844
General Andrew Jackson 
My dear Sir,
It is with great pleasure that according to your request I communicate to you the result of the Democratic meeting held yesterday in this city which is the Jerusalem of Whigggery and as yet under the dominion of a false God. At 2 PM the meeting which was very large was called to order. It was held at the Court-House. Many Whigs were present. The people were overflowing with enthusiasm and so hungry for good democratic doctrine that they compelled me to talk full four hours and then still cried “Go on” “Go on!” In the course of my remarks I reviewed the manifold inconsistencies of the political career of Henry Clay and endeavored to expose the dangerous and anti-republican tendency of the measures now advocated by the Whig party and “the great embodiment” and put the gaff to the aforesaid “great embodiment” as well as I was able and with hearty good will. Altho’ so many Whigs were present no interruption was offered from beginning to end. In the eve[nin]g the Hon. J. F. Marshall spoke a couple of hours at the same place and with his usual marked ability. The Democracy here are in fine spirits and say that if in October we elect Tod in Ohio and Shunk in Pa that the Kentucky Democracy can prostrate Mr. Clay at home. God grant that this may be the case. Let him be defeated not only in the Union—but in his own state—and the rebuke will be the greater to Henry Clay and his associated political profligates, and the moral lesson the deeper and the more abiding.

In the mo[rnin]g I leave for Cincinnati where I have an appointment the following day and thence to Columbus, Cleveland, Erie & Buffalo and thence through the state of N. York to the city speaking at the points named & other prominent ones on the route. On my arrival in New-York I promise myself the pleasure of communicating to you full particulars of our bright prospects there. 
With remembrance of my visit to the Hermitage that never can be effaced, and which will be prized as long as memory remains, and with my most respectful regards to the ladies of your family to Andrew Jackson Jr. and Major Donelson
I am
With sentiments of reverence and love
Your humble friend & obdt servant 
Gansevoort Melville

His Excellency
General Jackson

Gansevoort Melville to Andrew Jackson, September 15, 1844
Andrew Jackson papers via Library of Congress
Gansevoort Melville to Andrew Jackson, September 15, 1844 
Andrew Jackson papers via Library of Congress

Fulton History down

but not out for long, hopefully. Tom Tryniski explains on Facebook:
Hello All
Could you please pass the word around that www.fultonhistory.com is down due to a Power spike that took out my DNS server, WAN and Link balancer .My email address tryniski@fultonhistory.com will also not resolve as the MX pointer records were also affected. New hardware has been ordered and will be shipped by Fedx tonight from Taiwan. Count of 4-6 days before I'm back up. I have spares on most of my hardware but due to cost that one piece of equipment was not..You can reach me using gmail ttryniski@gmail.com ****Tom Tom Tryniski
Listed at the New York Public Library, Fulton History is a national treasure worthy of support from Melville fans everywhere, and from all students of American history. Thank you Tom Tryniski and best of luck with your new hardware.

May Fulton History keep on serving and balancing forever!

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":
CHAPTER VII.

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.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Oakey Hall remembers George Duyckinck

A. Oakey Hall wrote this heartfelt message to Evert Duyckinck on March 31, 1863, one day after the death of Evert's brother George at the age of forty.
In a little town to which business called me: in the midst of a driving snowstorm: just toward dusk: and with everything cheerless about me I learn of the death of George. It is a great shock: for I did not even know he was ill: & I shall not, I fear, reach town to attend the funeral, but shall try.

You know Evert I have knocked around the edges of society of all sorts & have for a man of my years seen a great deal of the bad side of life without being in it or of it. I can therefore well admire & esteem such a meek and unaffectedly just man as was George. To me he stands out in very bold relief as such a man. He was guileless, charitable to the failings of others, detesting wrong & deceit. You see I dwell on the things which to me seem great virtues. Others will speak of his talents, & literary labors & of his mind & its acumen. But to me a good man & that my friend is praise above all praise....
Hall's moving letter of condolence is in the Duyckinck family papers at NYPL. Quoted above from Hershel Parker's Herman Melville: A Biography, V2.534. Also transcribed at Parker's blog, Fragments from a Writing Desk.

George Long Duyckinck (1823-1863)
Image Credit: NYPL Digital Collections
Obituary Notice by W. F. M. (William Ferdinand Morgan)

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