Friday, January 22, 2016

Southern readers as Fayaways and Mehevis, indifferent to home-grown genius

Image Credit: Earnest J. Gaines Center Blog
Under the head of "Paragraphs for the Times," a correspondent (or the editor, D. C. Jenkins?) of the New Orleans Sunday Delta (June 21, 1857) complains of the "miserable literary subordinacy of the South," comparing southern readers, indifferent to southern writers, to Melville's "voluptuous and indolent Typees." Below is an excerpt only, not the full rant. Ironically, considering the blast at "servile dependence upon European and Northern bookwrights," the first "paragraphs" (not transcribed here) were devoted to Dickens and Thackeray.

Literary Subordinacy of the South 

Herman Melville—we like those men whose wizard genius brings to us amber-colored dreams—draws with the pencil of a poet-painter a glorious picture of a Happy Valley hidden among the palm-covered hills of the Marquesas, where the voluptuous and indolent Typees spend their time in the temple of their god with King Mehevi, and in paying court to the fair, young Fayaways lingering beneath the shade of the trees. In the deep stillness which reigns over the valley at mid-day, when every Typee is enjoying an undisturbed siesta, birds with brilliant wings, flashing in the sun, fly noiselessly in the air, beautiful to look upon, yet songless as death. 
We of the South, in the blazing light of this nineteenth century, though we boast a bolder, greater, grander race than the heathens of the far-distant isles which here and there dot the Pacific, are not unlike the self-complacent Typees. We, too, linger aobut the temple of our god, and though it is not of wood or stone, it is equally disrespectful to the Deity. The god of gold, the shining, captivating Mammon, is set up in our midst, for recklessly parodying Maximillian Robespierre, we seem to think, “if there is no God it is necessary to create one!” We, too, dwell in a Happy Valley, caring nothing about home intellectual nutriment, if it is allowable to compare the sensual to the spiritual; indifferent to the splendid birds of song which hover about us, silent as those of the Marquesas—not, however, because Heaven has sealed their throats, but because to build the lofty rhyme is neither to be applauded nor supported. 
Our Southern Mehivas [sic] idly turn over the leaves of a Southern book, and lay it contemptuously aside to dream of the rise or fall of Cotton. Our fair Fayaways having much the same feeling for Southern literature, whether embodied in books, magazines or newspapers, daintily put them away for the last new sensation story of the redoubtable Sylvanus Cobb, or some other Northern literary charlatan. Nothing good can come out of Nazareth, thought the Judeans of the olden time, though Incarnate Divinity moved in their midst—nothing good can come out of the South think thousands of our own people, though the land is full of Genius, the essence of that Divinity towards whom the wise men of the East turned, all radiant with joy! 
Sir Walter Scott said of Jeffrey, that he “had scarcely body enough to cover his brains.” There are abundance of similar men in the South, filled to the lip-brim with song, and endowed with the highest intellectual gifts. Poets, historians, essayists and painters exist everywhere in the South, who only want the genial smile of encouragement to bring out the rare intellectual qualities which for years have slumbered. They feel that the non-appreciation and non-patronage of learning, literature, science and the arts is humiliating. They are keenly alive to the miserable literary subordinacy of the South, and its servile dependence upon European and Northern bookwrights. They are fully aware that no people can be called independent who have not an independent literature. But in the present state of popular sentiment, it were madness for most of them to make literature a profession. There are more Otways and Tannahills among men of genius than there are Mat Priors and Sam Rogerses. Starvation is a most unpalatable sort of suicide....

--from the New Orleans Sunday Delta, June 21, 1857; found in the Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank
At first I wrongly took "An Old Fogy" to be the pseudonym of the writer of "Paragraphs for the Times." But the pseudonym appears in a different unrelated paragraph, where the Sunday Delta correspondent or rather editor (as now seems more likely) is quoting a previous column in the Baton Rouge Advocate signed, "AN OLD FOGY."

Additional references to Melville's South Sea narratives in "Paragraphs for the Times" appear in the New Orleans Sunday Delta on April 18, 1858 ("A Cuban Lulu") and August 8, 1858 ("Polynesian Dances"). So who was the Melville fan who edited the New Orleans Sunday Delta in 1857-8?

Donelson Caffery Jenkins?

Update 12/11/2016: John W. Overall, more likely. See the related post on


  1. Donelson Caffery Jenkins