Thursday, January 7, 2016

Khadija in White-Jacket

In a previous post I guessed one of the erased words in Elizabeth Melville's set of Channing (volume 3, page 123) might be a form of "Khadija." Reading Dorothee Metlitsky Finkelstein on Melville's Orienda, I'm reminded that Melville actually names Khadija in White-Jacket (1850):
And, like that old exquisite, Mohammed, who so much loved to snuff perfumes and essences, and used to lounge out of the conservatories of Khadija, his wife, to give battle to the robust sons of Koriesh; even so this Rio land-breeze comes jaded with sweet-smelling savours, to wrestle with the wild Tartar breezes of the sea.

--Herman Melville, White-Jacket, chapter 65 - A Man-of-War Race
Something like my conjectural reading "Khadija" or "Kadija" could help explain two features of the "enigmatic word" as described by Dawn Coleman in Mahomet's Gospel and Other Revelations (p. 80):
  1. Professor Coleman's observation that "the first two letters are strangely muddy, a mishmash of marks" might reflect the annotator's uncertainty about the correct spelling of "Khadija"; and
  2. an erased capital letter "K" could account for the appearance of "an initial graph that may have been an 'f' or abortive capital."
Gibbon on Mahomet, as Dorothee Metlitzki showed, was definitely the source for Melville's remark on "the uncommon beauty of his person" with reference to the "upstart prophet" Foni in Mardi (1849). Gibbon, who casts Mahomet as the leader of "an infant congregation of Unitarians," also notes the unavoidably mundane character of his early efforts:
"The first and most arduous conquests of Mahomet were those of his wife, his servant, his pupil, and his friend; since he presented himself as a prophet to those who were most conversant with his infirmities as a man."  --History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 5
So whatever it really says, the erased annotation in volume 3 of Elizabeth Melville's set of Channing's Works need not be interpreted as a factually mistaken assumption of Mohammed's poverty. What connects Channing's Jesus to Gibbon's Mahomet is the grand ideal of Unitarianism, contrasted with experience of the most familiar, ordinary realities of domestic life.

Considering Melville's reference to Khadija by name in White-Jacket, I'm inclined to stick with my earlier conjecture:
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.  --Mad, Zeid, or Khadija?
If you're wondering why it's so hard to say exactly what the annotator wrote, take a look at the digitized image of page 123 in volume 3 of the Works of William E. Channing at NYPL.

For a much better squint at some of the erased writing, check out the enhanced image at Melville's Marginalia Online.

Consulting the online Documentary Note for this set, I'm wondering now how Lemuel Shaw can be excluded from consideration as another possible annotator, in addition to Elizabeth Melville and her husband. Judge Shaw inscribed the set to his daughter--so obviously he owned the volumes first, who knows for how long.

Lemuel Shaw by Southworth & Hawes

Related post:

No comments:

Post a Comment