Monday, April 18, 2016

More British notices of Typee

Here are three items, all found at The British Newspaper Archive.


THIS is an exceedingly interesting narrative. The author, Herman Melville, having left the American service in disgust, took up his residence for four months with a tribe of islanders called the Typees. During this period, he became familiar with their character and customs; and in the work before us, his adventures and observations are graphically related. It forms a valuable addition to this popular library.  --Cheltenham Chronicle - Thursday, 12 March 1846

NARRATIVE OF A FOUR MONTHS' RESIDENCE AMONG THE NATIVES OF A VALLEY OF THE MARQUESAS ISLANDS; or, a peep at Polynesian life. By Herman Melville.— Murray's Home & Colonial Library.

A book of singular interest and beauty. It is a narrative of the adventures of an American seaman, who, in company with a messmate, deserted from his ship, and sought shelter among the natives of the Marquesas. After severe hardships they reached the Typee Valley, and for four months' the Typees were his hospitable entertainers. His physical delights exceeded his strongest desires, but being at length palled, he was glad to obtain his freedom, which he did through the exertions of an English captain. The authenticity of the narrative has been questioned, on the ground that it bears internal evidence of having been written by some one moving in a higher sphere than that of a common sailor. Be this as it may, however, it is one of the most pleasing of Mr Murray's admirable series. The adventures are described with a spirit truly refreshing; and there is a charm about its pictures of Polynesian life which cannot be over-praised. Some of its sketches we may give next week.  --Newcastle Courant - Friday 24 April 1846


Herman Melville, the author of this book, which has all the interest of Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe,' with the additional merit of being no fiction—was a sailor on board an American whaling vessel. If the captain of the whaler had not been a monster of cruelty, we might never have been delighted with this heart stirring narrative. Melville, and, a ship mate, named Toby, endured with marvelous resignation the brutal treatment to which they were subjected, until one fine day they took advantage of the vessel's visit to Nukuheva (one of the Marquesa islands) for provisions, and resolved to cast their lot among the natives rather than return to Egyptian bondage which their nautical taskmaster had in store for them. The manner in which the ladies of Nukuheva proceeded to welcome the strangers was rather original:— 
"We had approached within a mile and a half perhaps of the foot of the bay, when some of the islanders, who by this time had managed to scramble aboard of us at the risk of swamping their canoes, directed our attention to a singular commotion in the water ahead of the vessel. At first I imagined it to be produced by a shoal of fish sporting on the surface, but our savage friends assured us that it was caused by a shoal of 'whinhenies' (young girls), who in this manner were coming off from the shore to welcome us. As they drew nearer, and I watched the rising and sinking of their forms, and beheld the uplifted right arm bearing above the water the girdle of tappa, and their long dark hair trailing beside them as they swam, I almost fancied they could be nothing else than so many mermaids—and very like mermaids they behaved too.We were still some distance from the beach, and under slow headway, when we sailed right into the midst of these swimming nymphs, and they boarded us at every quarter; many seizing hold of the chain-plates and springing into the chains; others, at the peril of being run over by the vessel in her course, catching at the bob stays, and wreathing their slender forms about the ropes, hung suspended in the air. All of them at length succeeded in getting up the ship's side, where they clung dripping with the brine and glowing from the bath, their jet black tresses streaming over their shoulders, and half enveloping their otherwise naked forms. There they hung, sparkling with savage vivacity, laughing gaily at one another, and chattering away with infinite glee. Nor were they idle the while, for each one performed the simple offices of the toilette for the other. Their luxuriant locks, wound up and twisted into the smallest possible compass, were freed from the briny element; the whole person carefully dried, and from a little round shell that passed from hand to hand, anointed with a fragrant oil: their adornments were completed by passing a few loose folds of white tappa, in a modest cincture, around the waist. Thus arrayed they no longer hesitated, but flung themselves lightly over the bulwarks, and were quickly frolicking about the decks. Their appearance perfectly amazed me; their extreme youth, the light clear brown of their complexions, their delicate features, and inexpressibly graceful figures, their softly moulded limbs, and free unstudied action, seemed as strange as beautiful. In the evening after we had come to an anchor the deck was illuminated with lanterns, and this picturesque band of sylphs, tricked out with flowers, and dressed in robes of variegated tappa, got up a ball in great style. These females are passionately fond of dancing, and in the wild grace and spirit of their style excel everything that I have ever seen. The varied dances of the Marquesan girls are beautiful in the extreme, but there is an abandoned voluptuousness in their character which I dare not attempt to describe."  --Tipperary Free Press - Wednesday, 6 May 1846
The excerpt in the Tipperary review omits the bawdiest bits from "Melville's Peep":
 Many of them went forward, perching upon the head-rails or running out upon the bowsprit, while others seated themselves upon the taffrail, or reclined at full length upon the boats. What a sight for us bachelor sailors! how avoid so dire a temptation? For who could think of tumbling these artless creatures overboard, when they had swam miles to welcome us? ... The ‘Dolly’ was fairly captured; and never I will say was vessel carried before by such a dashing and irresistible party of boarders! The ship taken, we could not do otherwise than yield ourselves prisoners, and for the whole period that she remained in the bay, the ‘ Dolly,’ as well as her crew, were completely in the hands of the mermaids.--Typee, London edition published by John Murray
I guess more work will be needed to figure out if the reviewer is independently censoring Melville, or quoting from a text already expurgated.

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