Sunday, April 17, 2016

Some British notices of Israel Potter (1855), the pirated Routledge edition

Found these at the great and growing British Newspaper Archive. The review in the Elgin and Morayshire Courier is more substantial than most. Perceptive criticisms in the Scottish newspaper include smack-downs of the language Melville gives to King George III as "doggrel Cockney-English," and the hero-as-bricklayer section as bad Carlyle.
No. 85.—ISRAEL POTTER. By Herman Melville. London: George Routledge and Co.
Of the many authors of note and ability which America has recently produced, Herman Melville is not the least known to English readers, nor the least worthy of their esteem. Israel Potter was an humble hero of the American Revolution, and his adventures are here agreeably related, including his sufferings in an English prison, and his romantic career as the follower and favourite of the celebrated commander Paul Jones. The simple biography is exceedingly entertaining, and being published in Mr. Routledge's shilling series will be most extensively read we have no doubt. --Dublin Evening Post - Thursday, 10 May 1855.
From the Elgin and Morayshire [Scotland] Courier - Friday, 25 May 1855:


ISRAEL POTTER. By Herman Melville.
London: George Routledge & Co. Elgin: F. W. G. Russell. 

This book professes to give the adventures of Israel Potter, one of the many who were taken prisoners by the British at the commencement of the American war of independence. The book is one series of wonderful adventures and mishaps; and it is for the reader to judge whether they are real or not. The scene opens among the mountains and valleys of Massachusetts, which it seems are so very pleasant and enchanting that, to quote our author, "you have the sensation of being upon the moon," or feel like "Bootes driving in heaven!" At the commencement we are told that this Israel Potter was "much of a dare-devil upon a pinch," which pointed character is amply testified by the narrative. Israel, in due time, falls in love; but the fair one, "beautiful and amiable" though she was, proves false, and the boy, now become "desperate," runs off. Our hero next joins the rebellious colonists, and after a variety of wonderful achievements, is taken prisoner by a British war ship, and brought to England. He manages to escape three times, but after the failure of his third attempt, his spirits, which "had hitherto armed him with fortitude," began to forsake him. Regaining his courage, however, he escapes again, and after falling into some awkward mistakes, such as running "unawares" into the Princess Amelia's gardens, (!) he gets into the service of a good kind hearted country knight, who discovers that he is an American, and condescends now and then (all the time "bare-headed") to have "nice little confidential chats" with Israel. The latter, on the other hand, was charmed with "the patriarchal demeanour (we are quoting) of this true Abrahamic gentleman." Some weeks after this he left his place for Kew Gardens, where he obtained work. George III. happened, in one of his accustomed walks in this favourite resort of our kings, to see Israel, and a short conversation ensued; and Mr Herman Melville exhibits his high ideas of royalty by the doggrel Cockney-English which he puts into the mouth of the monarch, that "magnanimous lion." Our adventurer afterwards acted as secret courier to Franklin, then American Ambassador in France. The author's knowledge of Scripture and philosophy must be profound, since he says that "history presents few trios more akin upon the whole" than the patriarch Jacob, the infidel philosopher Hobbes, and the wily diplomatist Franklin!! After delivering his letters, Israel returned to England, where, among other remarkable adventures, he is mistaken for a scare-crow. In a second attempt to cross the Channel, he was forced into the British navy. Captured by a States' vessel, he becomes a great friend of the captain, Paul Jones—enters his ship as quartermaster, and accompanies many of the expeditions in which that rapacious freebooter engaged. Our unfortunate hero is again taken, and becomes a brickmaker. Here our author condescends to become facetious (as he thinks) and tries to imitate Carlyle. When Israel became a brickmaker, he speaks of him as being "Israel in Egypt," and tells us that he is astonished at the "devil-may-care gestures" of the moulders. He at last obtains a passage for America, and "died the same day that the oldest oak on his native hills was blown down!!" --The Elgin and Morayshire [Scotland] Courier - Friday, 25 May 1855
Transcribed below, the earlier notice in Reynolds's Newspaper (29 April 1855) supplied three long excerpts from the Routledge edition of Israel Potter:
ISRAEL POTTER; OR, FIFTY YEARS OF EXILE. Routledge, Farringdon-street.—This is an American tale of the last century, and purports to be the history and adventures of one Israel Potter, who, captured by the English forces at the battle of Bunker's Hill, was conveyed to England as a prisoner of war. He, however, at length contrived to escape captivity, and found himself on board the ship of war commanded by that daring and experienced seaman, the celebrated Paul Jones, a mariner whose enterprize and courage first caused the flag of America to be respected as well as feared upon the ocean. At the period of this tale the English government was vainly endeavoring to suppress by force of arms the insurrectionary movement in America, and whilst his countrymen were bravely fighting against the land forces of George the Third at home, Paul Jones swept the European seas, and ravaged the coasts of England. Israel Potter, having been impressed for the English navy, was drafted on board a revenue cutter, cruising in the English Channel, when the following events occurred:—


The revenue vessel resumed her course towards the nighest port, worked by but four men; the captain, Israel, and two officers. The cabin-boy was kept at the helm. As the only foremast man, Israel was put to it pretty hard. Where there is but one man to three masters, woe betide that lonely slave. Besides, it was of itself severe work enough to manage the vessel thus short of hands. But to make matters still worse, the captain and his officers were ugly-tempered fellows. The one kicked, and the others cuffed Israel. Whereupon, not sugared with his recent experiences, and maddened by his present hap, Israel seeing himself alone at sea, with only three men, instead of a thousand, to contend against, plucked up a heart, knocked the captain into the lee scuppers, and in his fury was about tumbling the first-officer, a small wash of a fellow, plump overboard, when the captain, jumping to his feet, seized him by his long yellow hair, vowing he would slaughter him. Meanwhile the cutter flew foaming through the channel, as if in demoniac glee at this uproar on her imperilled deck. While the consternation was at its height, a dark body suddenly loomed at a moderate distance into view, shooting right athwart the stern of the cutter. The next moment a shot struck the water within a boat's length. "Heave to, and send a boat on board!" roared a voice almost as loud as a cannon. "That's a war ship," cried the captain of the revenue vessel, in alarm; "but she ain't a countryman." Meantime the officers and Israel stopped the cutter's way. "Send a boat on board, or I'll sink you," again came roaring from the stranger, followed by another shot, striking the water still nearer the cutter. "For God's sake, don't cannonade us. I haven't got the crew to man a boat," replied the captain of the cutter. "Who are you?"—"Wait till I send a boat to you for that," replied the stranger. " She's an enemy of some sort, that's plain," said the Englishman now to his officers. "We ain't at open war with France; she's some bloodthirsty pirate or other. What d'ye say, men ?" turning to his officers; "let's outsail her, or be snot to chips. We can beat her at sailing, I know." With that, nothing doubting that his counsel would be heartily responded to, he ran to the braces to get the cutter before the wind, followed by one officer, while the other, for a useless bravado, hoisted the colours at the stern. But Israel stood indifferent, or rather all in a fever of conflicting emotions. He thought he recognised the voice from the strange vessel. "Come, what do ye standing there, fool? Spring to the ropes here!" cried the furious captain. But Israel did not stir. Meantime the confusion on board the stranger, owing to the hurried lowering of her boat, with the cloudiness of the sky darkening the misty sea, united to conceal the bold manoeuvre of the cutter. She had almost gained full head way ere an oblique shot, directed by mere chance, struck her stern, tearing the upcurved head of the tiller in the hands of the cabin-boy, and killing him with the splinters. Running to the stump, the captain huzzaed, and steered the reeling ship on. Forced now to hoist back the boat ere giving chase, the stranger was dropping rapidly astern. All this while storms of maledictions were hurled on Israel. But their exertions at the ropes prevented his ship mates for the time from using personal violence. "While observing their efforts, Israel could not but say to himself, " These fellows are as brave as they are brutal." Soon the stranger was seen dimly wallowing along astern, crowding all sail in chase, while now and then her bow-gun, showing its red tongue, bellowed after them like a mad bull. Two more shots struck the cutter, but without materially damaging her sails, or the ropes immediately upholding them. Several of her less important stays were sundered, however, whose loose tarry ends lashed the air like scorpions. It seemed not improbable that, owing to her superior sailing, the keen cutter would yet get clear. At this juncture, Israel, running towards the captain, who still held the splintered stump of the tiller, stood full before him, saying, " I am an enemy, a Yankee—look to yourself."—"Help here, lads, help," roared the captain; "a traitor, a traitor!" The words were hardly out of his mouth when his voice was silenced for ever. With one prodigious heave of his whole physical force, Israel smote him over the taffrail into the sea, as if the man had fallen backwards over a teetering chair. By this time the two officers were hurrying aft. Ere meeting them midway, Israel, quick as lightening, cast off the two principal halyards, thus letting the large sails all in a tumble of canvas to the deck. Next moment one of the officers was at the helm, to prevent the cutter from capsizing by being without a steersman in such an emergency. The other officer and Israel interlocked. The battle was in the midst of the chaos of blowing canvas. Caught in a rent of the sail, the officer slipped and fell near the sharp iron edge of the hatchway. As he fell he seized Israel with terrific violence. Insane with pain, Israel dashed his adversary's skull against the sharp iron. The officer's hold relaxed, hut himself stiffened. Israel made for the helms man, who as yet knew not the issue of the late tussle. He clutched him round the loins, bedding his fingers like grisly claws into his flesh, and hugging him to his heart. The man's ghost, caught like a broken cork in a gurgling bottle's neck, gasped with the embrace. Loosening him suddenly, Israel hurled him from him against the bulwarks. That instant another report was heard, followed by the savage hail—"You down sail at last, do ye? I'm a good mind to sink ye for your scurvy trick. Pull down that dirty rag there, astern!" With a loud huzza, Israel hauled down the flag with one hand, while with the other he helped the now slowly gliding craft from falling off before the wind. In a few moments a boat was alongside. As its commander stepped to the deck he stumbled against the body of the first officer, which, owing to the sudden slant of the cutter in coming to the wind, had rolled against the side near the gangway. As he came aft he heard the moan of the other officer, where he lay under the mizen shrouds. "What is all this?" demanded the stranger of Israel. "It means that I am a Yankee impressed into the king's service, and for their pains I have taken the cutter." Giving vent to his surprise, the officer looked narrowly at the body by the shrouds, and said, "This man is as good as dead, but we will take him to Captain Paul as a witness in your behalf."—"Captain Paul?—Paul Jones?" cried Israel. "The same."—"I thought so. I thought that was his voice hailing. It was Captain Paul's voice that somehow put me up to this deed."—"Captain Paul is the devil for putting men up to be tigers. But where are the rest of the crew?" — "Overboard." — "What?" cried the officer; "come on board the Ranger. Captain Paul will use you for a broadside."
After this adventure Captain Paul Jones paid the islands of Scotland a visit.


The Ranger now stood over the Solway Frith for the Scottish shore, and at noon on the same day, Paul, with twelve men, including two officers and Israel, landed on St. Mary's Isle, one of the seats of the Earl of Selkirk. In three consecutive days this elemental warrior either entered the harbours or landed on the shores of each of the Three Kingdoms. The morning was fair and clear. St. Mary's Isle lay shimmering in the sun. The light crust of snow had melted, revealing the tender grass and sweet buds of spring mantling the sides of the cliffs. At once, upon advancing with his party towards the house, Paul augured ill for his project from the loneliness of the spot. No being was seen. But cocking his bonnet at a jaunty angle, he continued his way. Stationing the men silently round about the house, followed by Israel, he announced his presence at the porch. A gray-headed domestic at length responded. "Is the earl within?"—"He is in Edinburgh, sir." "Ah, sure! Is your lady within?"—"Yes, sir who shall I say it is?" —"A gentleman who calls to pay his respects. Here, take my card." And he handed the man his name, as a private gentleman, superbly engraved at Paris, on gilded paper. Israel tarried in the hall while the old servant led Paul into a parlour. Presently the lady appeared. "Charming Madame, I wish you a very good morning."— "Who may it be, sir, that I have the happiness to see?" said the lady, censoriously drawing herself up at the too frank gallantry of the stranger. " Madame, I sent you my card."— "Which leaves me equally ignorant, sir," said the lady, coldly, twirling the gilded pasteboard. "A courier despatched to Whitehaven, charming Madame, might bring you more particular tidings as to who has the honour of being your visitor." Not comprehending what this meant, and deeply displeased, if not vaguely alarmed, at the characteristic manner of Paul, the lady, not entirely unembarrassed, replied, that if the gentleman came to view the isle, he was at liberty so to do. She would retire and send him a guide. "Countess of Selkirk," said Paul, advancing a step, "I call to see the earl. On business of urgent importance, I call."—"The earl is in Edinburgh," uneasily responded the lady, again about to retire. "Do you give me your honour as a lady that it is as you say?" The lady looked at him in dubious resentment. "Pardon, Madame, I would not lightly impugn a lady's lightest words, but I surmised that, possibly, you might suspect the object of my call, in which case it would be the most excusable thing in the world for you to seek to shelter from my knowledge the presence of the earl on the isle."—"I do not dream what you mean by all this," said the lady with a decided alarm, yet even in her panic courageously maintaining her dignity, as she retired, rather than retreated, nearer the door. "Madame," said Paul, hereupon waving his hand imploringly, and then tenderly playing with his bonnet with the golden band, while an expression poetically sad and sentimental stole over his tawny face, "it cannot be too poignantly lamented that, in the profession of arms, the officer of tine feelings and genuine sensibility should be sometimes necesitated to public actions which his own private heart cannot approve. This hard case is mine. The earl, Madame, you say is absent. I believe those words. Far be it from my soul, enchantress, to ascribe a fault to syllables which have proceeded from so faultless a source." This probably he said in reference to the lady's mouth, which was beautiful in the extreme. He bowed very lowly, while the lady eyed him with conflicting and troubled emotions, but as yet all in darkness as to his ultimate meaning. But her more immediate alarm had subsided, seeing now that the sailor-like extravagance of Paul's homage was entirely unaccompanied with any touch of intentional disrespect. Indeed, hyperbolical as were his phrases, his gestures and whole carriage were most needfully deferential. Paul continued: "The earl, Madame, being absent, and he being the sole object of my call, you cannot labour under the least apprehension, when I now inform you, that I have the honour of being an officer in the American navy, who, having stopped at this isle to secure the person of the Earl of Selkirk as a hostage for the American cause, am, by your assurances, turned away from that intent; pleased, even in disappointment, since that disappointment has served to prolong my interview with the noble lady before me, as well as to leave her domestic tranquillity unimpaired."—"Can you really speak true?" said the lady in undismayed wonderment. "Madame, through your window you will catch a little peep of the American colonial ship-of-war, Ranger, which I have the honour to command. With my best respects to your lord, and sincere regrets at not finding him at home, permit me to salute your ladyship's hand and withdraw." But feigning not to notice this Parisian proposition, and artfully entrenching her hand, without seeming to do so, the lady, in a conciliatory tone, begged her visitor to partake of some refreshment ere he departed, at the same time thanking him for his great civility. But declining these hospitalities, Paul bowed thrice and quitted the room. In the hall he encountered Israel, standing all agape before a Highland target of steel, with a claymore and foil crossed on top. "Looks like a pewter platter and knife and fork, Captain Paul."—"So they do, my lion ; but come, curse it, the old cock has flown; fine hen, though, left in the nest; no use; we must away empty-handed."—"Why, ain't Mr. Selkirk in?" demanded Israel in roguish concern. "Mr. Selkirk? Alexander Selkirk, you mean. No, lad, he's not on the Isle of St. Mary's; he's away off, a hermit, on the Isle of Juan Fernandez the more's the pity; come." In the porch they encountered the two officers. Paul briefly informed them of the circumstances, saying, nothing remained but to depart forthwith. "With nothing at all for our pains?" murmured the two officers. "What, pray, would you have?"—"Some pillage, to be sure—plate."—"Shame! I thought we were three gentlemen."—"So are the English officers in America; but they help themselves to plate whenever they can get it from the private houses of the enemy."— "Come, now, don't be slanderous," said Paul; "these officers you speak of are but one or two out of twenty, mere burglars and light-fingered gentry, using the king's livery but as a disguise to their nefarious trade. The rest are men of honour."—"Captain Paul Jones," responded the two, "we have not come on this expedition in much expectation of regular pay; but we did rely upon honourable plunder."—"Honourable plunder ! That's something new." But the officers were not to be turned aside. They were the most efficient in the ship. Seeing them resolute, Paul, for fear of incensing them, was at last, as a matter of policy, obliged to comply. For himself, however, he resolved to have nothing to do with the affair. Charging the officers not to allow the men to enter the house on any pretence, and that no search must be made, and nothing must be taken away, except what the lady should offer them upon making known their demand, he beckoned to Israel and retired indignantly towards the beach. Upon second thoughts, he despatched Israel back, to enter the house with the officers, as joint receiver of the plate, he being, of course, the most reliable of the seamen. The lady was not a little disconcerted on receiving the officers. With cool determination they made known their purpose. There was no escape. The lady retired. The butler came; and soon, several silver salvers, and other articles of value, were silently deposited in the parlour in the presence of the officers and Israel.
Paul Jones wrote a polite note to the countess, exonerating himself from any participation in the plunder of her valuables.


[aslo from Chapter 17. pp. 117-119.]
Upon returning to the ship, she was instantly pointed over towards the Irish coast. Next morning Carrickfergus was in sight. Paul would have gone straight in; but Israel, reconnoitring with his glass, informed him that a large ship, probably the Drake, was just coming out. "What think you, Israel, do they know who we are? Let me have the glass."—"They are dropping a boat now, sir," replied Israel, removing the glass from his eye, and handing it to Paul. "So they are—so they are. They don't know us. I'll decoy that boat alongside. Quick—they are coming for us—take the helm now yourself, my lion, and keep the ship's stern steadily presented towards the advancing boat. Don't let them have the least peep at our broadside." The boat came on, an officer in its bow all the time eyeing the Ranger through a glass. Presently the boat was within hail. "Ship ahoy ! Who are you?"—"Oh, come along side," answered Paul through his trumpet, in a rapid off-hand tone, as though he were a gruff sort of friend, impatient at being suspected for a foe. In a few moments the officer of the boat stepped into the Ranger's gangway. Cocking his bonnet gallantly, Paul advanced towards him, making a very polite bow, saying: "Good morning, sir, good morning; delighted to see you. That's a pretty sword you have; pray, let me look at it."—"I see," said the officer, glancing at the ship's armament, and turning pale." I am your prisoner."—"No—my guest," responded Paul, winningly. "Pray, let me relieve you of your—your—cane." Thus humorously he received the officer's delivered sword. "Now tell me, sir, if you please," he continued, "what brings out his Majesty's ship Drake this fine morning? Going a little airing?"—"She comes out in search of you, but when I left her side half an hour since she did not know that the ship off the harbour was the one she sought."—"You had news from Whitehaven, I suppose, last night, eh?"—"Aye: express; saying that certain incendiaries had landed there early that morning."—"What?—what sort of men were they, did you say?" said Paul, shaking his bonnet fiercely to one side of his head, and coming close to the officer. "Pardon me," he added derisively, "I had forgot you are my guest. Israel, see the unfortunate gentleman below, and his men forward." The Drake was now seen slowly coming out under a light air, attended by five small pleasure-vessels, decorated with flags and streamers, and full of gaily-dressed people, whom motives similar to those which drew visitors to the circus, had induced to embark on their adventurous trip. But they little dreamed how nigh the desperate enemy was. "Drop the captured boat astern," said Paul; "see what effect that will have on those merry voyagers." No sooner was the empty boat descried by the pleasure-vessels, than forthwith, surmising the truth, they with all diligence turned about and re-entered the harbour. Shortly after, alarm-smokes were seen extending along both sides of the channel. " They smoke us at last, Captain Paul," said Israel. " There will be more smoke yet before the day is done," replied Paul, gravely. The wind was right under the land, the tide unfavourable. The Drake worked out very slowly. Meantime, like some fiery-heated duellist calling on urgent business at frosty daybreak, and long kept waiting at the door by the dilatoriness of his antagonist, shrinking at the idea of getting up to be cut to pieces in the cold—the Ranger, with a better breeze, impatiently tacked to and fro in the channel. At last, when the English vessel had fairly weathered the point, Paul, ranging ahead, courteously led her forth, as a beau might a belle in a ball-room, to mid-channel, and then suffered her to come within hail. " She is hoisting her colours now, sir," said Israel. "Give her the stars and stripes, then, my lad." Joyfully running to the locker, Israel attached the flag to the halyards. The wind freshened. He stood elevated. The bright flag blew around him, a glorified shroud, enveloping him in its red ribbons and spangles, like upspringing tongues, and sparkles of flame. As the colours rose to their final perch, and streamed in the air, Paul eyed them exultingly. "I first hoisted that flag on an American ship, and was the first among men to get it saluted. If I perish this night, the name of Paul Jones shall live. Hark! they hail us."—"What ship are you?"—"Your enemy. Come on! "What wants the fellow of more prefaces and introductions?" The sun was now calmly setting over the green land of Ireland. The sky was serene, the sea smooth, the wind just sufficient to waft the two vessels steadily and gently. After the first firing and a little manoeuvring, the two ships glided on freely, side by side; in that mild air exchanging their deadly broadsides, like two friendly horsemen walking their steeds along a plain, chatting as they go. After an hour of this running fight, the conversation ended. The Drake struck. How changed from the big craft of sixty short minutes before! She seemed now, above deck, like a piece of wild western woodland into which choppers had been. Her masts and yards prostrate, and hanging in jack-straws; several of her sails ballooning out, as they dragged in the sea, like great lopped tops of foliage. The black hull and shattered stumps of masts, galled and riddled, looked as if gigantic woodpeckers had been tapping them. The Drake was the larger ship; more cannon—more men. Her loss in killed and wounded was far the greater. Her brave captain and lieutenant were mortally wounded.

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